A read-only archive of discourse.darkjedibrotherhood.com as of Sunday May 01, 2022.

Sins of the Past - Plot Updates


This story happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is already over. Nothing can be done to change it.

It is a story of love and loss, brotherhood and betrayal, courage and sacrifice and the death of dreams. It is a story of the blurred line between our best and our worst.

It is the story of the end of an age.

A strange thing about stories—

Though this all happened so long ago and so far away that words cannot describe the time or the distance, it is also happening right now. Right here.

It is happening as you read these words.

This is how twenty-five years come to a close. Corruption and treachery have crushed loyalty and integrity. This is not just the end of a covenant; night is falling on the Brotherhood itself.

This is the twilight of the Shadow Clan.

The end starts now.


Plaintext Version


Unknown Location
Dajorra System

“Our strike teams are in position at their individual targets?”

The Sullustan to his right warbled affirmatively as the pair studied the map in front of them. Ethereal blue lines slashed through the empty space above the holoprojector, forming the image of a massive industrial complex. It was recreated in intricate detail, down to the locations of first aid stations and sewer access points. The gray-skinned Muun scratched the side of his elongated cranium thoughtfully before reaching out and touching a location on the projection. With the slightest hum from the holoprojector, the map seemed to rotate, centering on the area he had tapped and zooming in. A dozen pipes of varying width filled the screen, label-lines connecting them to a list on the right-hand side of the projection.

Sewer…water…methane alkalides… The Muun snapped his long, graceful fingers, breaking his Sullustan companion’s silent study of the schematics. “There. Why in the world would they need two natural gas lines? And why would it be flowing out from a power plant?”

The Sullustan chittered excitedly, bobbing his oversized head and reaching out to rotate the map. His stubby fingers zoomed in on another section of the base, showing a similar grouping of pipes and the same inconsistency in their labeling.

“Nice catch, Laiv. Forward the data to Strike Team Esk.”

As his mouse-eared second-in-command bent over the holoprojector’s terminal to comply, the Muun steepled his fingers and closed his eyes. Nearly there, he thought, sighing contentedly to himself. They used me for a scapegoat. Blamed me for their own shortsighted failures. Cast me aside. Forced me to live like a rat, hunted, subsisting on scraps and luck alone. It’s taken the better part of a decade to rebuild my fortune, to orchestrate their downfall, but Arcona will finally pay for their betrayal.

“What’s that, Mr. Lorden?”

The voice snapped the Muun from his musings, and he realized belatedly that he had been muttering to himself again. Such a bad habit. Can’t let the others think I’ve gone off the deep end. No, that wouldn’t do at all. If they think I’ve cracked, they’ll never trust me. And then I’d have to kill everyone. Bad for business, that would be. “Nothing, Captain Vance. Nothing at all. Any word over the GravTrans?”

“The usual status updates. Strike Team Onith had a slight hiccup with the security patrols around Naruba Investment’s headquarters, but they handled the situation quietly. Nothing from them, though,” replied the Dajorran native, answering the Muun’s unspoken question. “I’ll let you know immediately if anything comes in.”

“Very well, Captain. Carry on.”

Nearly there. Not long now at all.


Industrial Distinct, Estle City
Dajorra System

Fools, thought a mountain of a man. Wrapped in a dark, nondescript cloak that enveloped his bulky frame, his burning golden gaze passed over the second of Selen’s moons and lingered, for a moment, on the shadowed spires of the Citadel in the distance. Fools mothered by even greater fools in turn.

He turned his back on spires’ silhouettes and strode purposefully down an alleyway wide enough for a hovertruck. Distantly, he heard just such a convoy passing, their engines rumbling and straining under what he assumed was heavy cargo on its way to the ports. Whub-ub-ub-ub. The machinery echoed on and on, maddeningly. The cloying, pervasive fumes of oil and grime seeped into the nearby factory walls and the ground underfoot, assaulting his nostrils.

And still, it was not so vile as the stench of his Jedi-adoring clanmates. Still, the cacophony was not so infuriating as their traitorous murmurs of revolt or death at the mess hall tables. His fist tightened around the hilt of the saber at his belt as if clamping around a throat, his mingled blood boiling at the thought. He couldn’t stand to bite his tongue much longer.

And perhaps, fortunately, he wouldn’t need to. Not if the message he’d received was genuine.

The hulking half-Human stopped in his tracks, glancing around briefly to orient himself. His eyes turned to the warehouse before him and the faded, soot-smeared numbers of its address.

If you, brethren, doubt the Path our Consul has us pursuing, then come to a meeting at 0300 tonight…

The message, signed with the encryption certificate of the Arconae, had offered an unremarkable meeting place in Estle City’s industrial district. It had also offered hope. Hope that, perhaps, he wasn’t alone in his desire to see the Brotherhood united for the first time since the Lion of Tarthos’ debacle at New Tython. Since the Jedi joined the Brotherhood.

It was possible that the message was a trap, sent by one of the Consul’s agents to lure in dissenters. If so, I’ll just claim I wanted to track down the source of the dissent and present them to Atyiru’s little Rainbow Friendship Squad myself. He thought that unlikely, though. The certificate itself had been genuine, and the di Tenebrous Arconae guarded their secrets jealously. Besides, any price would be worth paying if it meant stopping this madness and bringing his Brethren back into the fold.

Ernordeth Puer-Irae pushed back his hood, cool air meeting his reddish scalp, and smiled confidently at the building that beckoned to him. One way or another, it was bound to be an interesting night.


Industrial Distinct, Estle City
Dajorra System

The hooded Knight nearly jumped as he felt the mountain of a man pause a few dozen meters ahead of him. Sithspit! He hated how on edge he was. Without his mask, he felt defenseless, naked. “Can’t risk being seen, though,” he muttered under his breath, remembering the younger Mandalorian’s orders. Running his fingers through his auburn goatee, he tried to force down his ire at taking orders from the baby-faced Erinos - trusting, despite his irritation, that his fellow Mando’ade would know best for the Clan whose name he carried.

Taking one more deep breath to settle his nerves, the Human took a casual step out of the alley and strode slowly towards the scarlet-skinned figure in the distance. He glanced quickly over his shoulder, eyeing the Citadel’s spires in the distance, and smiled. His mission was simple: follow the half-Human Battlelord and report if he veered off course. He wasn’t sure why they felt the need for the theatrics, why they didn’t just arrest Ernordeth if they suspected he was disloyal. But he knew enough not to question an Arconae.

As the distant Galeran lowered his hood and entered the warehouse before him, Rins’zler turned away and began a slow trot back towards the Citadel, a hint of a smile creasing his scarred face. With any luck, they’ll be arr—

The thought cut off abruptly as he was hit from behind. The blow threw him bodily to the ground and heat roared over him, taking razors to his skin. Ignoring the dull ringing in his ears that drowned out the world around him, he rolled over instinctively and scanned the street around him. The sight chilled his blood.

The world was awash in flame. Fire licked its way over a half dozen buildings. The dilapidated warehouse was engulfed in an inferno. A handful of people ran from nearby buildings, half rushing to offer aid, the rest fleeing in terror. Exhausted, the Knight’s head fell back and hit roughly against the duracrete roadway. Too roughly. He could feel himself losing consciousness. Even preoccupied with the struggle, the sight above him stole his breath. The sky itself looked made of cinder.


Unknown Location
Dajorra System

As the countdown hit zero, nearly a dozen spots of red bloomed across the clean blue lines of the holo-projection, marring Estle City’s faux perfection. The Muun knew without looking that similar blasts would be taking out factories, power plants and other facilities in Naruba City, Zainab and Korda. Even Celeste wouldn’t escape unscathed - carefully placed droids would have focused energy beams to create strategic holes in the underwater city’s dome, letting geysers of salt water pour into the otherwise self-contained metropolis. Suppressing a grin, Lorden turned towards Laiv and nodded once.

The heavily-jowled Sullustan typed a brief set of commands into the console in front of him, then chittered back in his high-pitched fashion.

“Good. Set the sabotage droids to self-destruct when they detect tampering and order the strike teams to pull out. All except Esk. They’re to assume their disguises and pursue the secondary target at their discretion.”

The mouse-eared lieutenant trilled an acknowledgement and continued to tap away at the console. The staccato click-clat was music to the Muun’s undersized ears. Turning away from the holo-projector, the former Naruba CFO pulled a small, palm-sized holocomm from his back pocket and hit the single button on its nondescript surface. The device’s signal, the Muun knew, would even now be travelling through encrypted communication channels, lighting up a similar button on an identical device in a remote sector of the galaxy. He expected it might take several minutes for the signal to be acknowledged, but even as he turned back to the room’s main display, he caught the tell-tale fuzzing of air out of the corner of his eye as the holocomm buzzed to life. Tamping down on a swell of irritation, the Muun plastered on his business face and turned back to face the device.

A small figure, no more than half a meter tall, floated in space a dozen centimeters above the holocomm. A voluminous cloak shrouded the form’s figure, making any sort of visual identification impossible. Nonetheless, a slight crimson glow peeking from beneath the figure’s cloak tugged at Lorden’s curiosity. It always had. It was possible it was simply an artifact of lighting, or maybe the gleam of optical implants. Whatever the case, it was one of the few clues the Muun had to his employer’s identity.

“Report, Mr. Gray.” The words were clipped, rigid in their formality, but the voice itself bespoke a cultured upbringing, one of etiquette and protocol despite years barking orders. Silk over durasteel. Another clue.

“Everything went according to plan, sir.” The Muun chafed at the ridiculous pseudonyms this Mr. Blue insisted on, but he swallowed his tongue. For now. “All teams report success. One of them uncovered evidence of a second facility buried beneath their primary target. They’re investigating now.”

“Excellent,” the hooded projection replied. “Esk, I assume?” When the Muun nodded, his employer resumed. “Order them to uncover whatever intel they can and await instructions. If it looks like they’ve been compromised, they’re to blow the facility.”

“Already done,” Lorden replied, suppressing a smirk of satisfaction at actually being ahead of his employer for once.

“Comm me if the situation changes. I need to have a conversation with our young compatriot and make sure he understands the part he’s to play in all of this.”

The Muun snorted involuntarily. “Good luck.”

“There is no luck, Mr. Gray. Only Justice and the Force.”


Treyairn Point Apartment Complex
Estle City, Selen

“…still say you just toss him over into the pool. Not like he doesn’t deserve it.”

Kordath groaned in his sleep, words filtering in from the outside world, breaking up the lovely dream he was having. Twin Twi’leks twirling together towards the tub. It was a work of art inside his brain, which is probably why it was twisting and weaving. Though why there was a tub at all he couldn’t understand. Alliteration, part of his brain tried to speak up, but it was drowned out by the annoyances from the waking world.

“I’m aware of what occured, young Sprout! That is the only reason I’m allowing you to use the bucket, a manner of waking drunkards that’s been passed down the Garmis family line for generations! You deserve the honor after last night, most certainly.”

The second voice boomed and rattled his brain, causing the lovely scene before him to quiver and fade. He tried to chase it, reaching out to grab a fleeing lekku, only to watch the entire image shrink and implode. Then the entire world went goopy as he was shocked awake, sputtering as water tried to fill his mouth and nose.

His first sight in this new, unpleasant place was the Falleen midget, Sprouts, holding a bucket and looking smug. Strong, his other Fade, the big Chiss, was standing behind him with muscular arms crossed. Why the large man had a look of disappointment on his face, Kordath didn’t know. Yet. He was certain Strong would inform him. Loudly. Before he had a chance to have a nip to settle the hangover that was already crashing like waves against his gut and head. Another figure stood nearby, black coat and boots, serious face.

“Wassa goin’ on,” grumbled the Ryn, lying back in the puddle he’d been splashed with. “Why’sa DIA agent here?”

He blinked a few times, “And why’s we outside?” he asked, noticing that they were on the walkway that ran around the inner ring of apartments. His own was just over there, behind the dour looking agent type.

“We are outside, Master Bleu,” bellowed the Chiss, causing Kord to curl up and cover his ears in desperation, “Because you decided this was where you would sleep last night! After your meeting with the Consul you felt a desire to, I quote, “hit up the ole’ waterin’ hole” while you were still in Estle City. Whatever you had left for an operations fund for this month has been spent on covering the tab. Not to mention the damages! We got you this far before you declared you’d be sleeping under the stars.”

“Ya didn’t try ta drag me inside when I fell asleep?”

“I did,” growled Sprouts, still gripping the bucket in a manner that made Kordath nervous. “You, barely opening your eyes, picked me up with the Force and tossed me over the railing! Into the pool!”

“Least it wasn’t the bleedin’ ground,” he muttered, sitting up and rubbing his head. “What about spooky over there?”

The Human agent stepped forward, his boots clicking loudly on the duracrete, at least loudly to Kordath. “Master Bleu! Your presence is requested in Korda City, the Zratis Arms Manufactory’s warehouse has suffered, well, it’s been blown to hell, sir.”

“Cut the Master, cut the sir, start over,” he growled, patting his sodden clothes, looking for his smokes. He looked up to find Strong holding a single one out to him, a look of disdain on his face. The Fade didn’t approve of the habit. Blowing a stream of smoke out, the Ryn sighed and pushed himself up to standing. “Somebody blew up a plant?”

“Not the plant, no sir, the finished product warehouse.”

“Why would a loon blow that up, steal the bleedin’ cargo! Weapons are always worth credits. Now who’s requestin’ me presence?”

“Si–I mean, uhh, Mister Bleu, the order comes from the Citadel, it has the Shadow Lady’s seal.”

“Grand, bloody grand, shoulda hopped the shuttle back to Ol’val last night,” he muttered, looking at the document with bleary eyes. “Ya got a transport waitin’?”

“Yes Sir, I mean, uhh, yes, a shuttle is waiting for us at the spaceport, umm, you’re turning quite pale…”

“Kord doesn’t fly so well,” spoke Sprouts, a look of glee on the small man’s face.

“Kark it, turn the tint to full, get me half a dozen liters of caf on board. Lemme change into somethin’ dry first,” stated the Ryn, glaring at his diminutive Fade. “I think I’ll skip the shower, sorry lads, sounds like an emergency.”

He entered his apartment in search of cleanish clothes, smiling as he heard both Fades groan in realization. When questioned by the Agent, they simply mentioned ‘smell of a wet rat’. He’d figure it out by the time they made it to Korda City.

Thirty minutes later the hungover Ryn was sipping a steaming mug of caf, staring at the ceiling of the shuttle and pretending it was a speeder bus. He also affected to ignore the smell, knowing it was himself but blaming Sprout and Strong. The Agent wasn’t much help, looking pale in the corner after handing off a datapad to the Ryn.

Kordath was swiping through images that had been taken of the scene, a bomb of decent power had level the warehouse. From the way the wreckage was laid out, it looked as if the blast had come from inside.

Worker planted it? Or somebody broke in?

Flicking through to the preliminary report, he skimmed, picking out quickly the mention of finding the security guards on duty dead in the wreckage.

Stabbed in the back, slashed throat, not a worker then. Somebody broke in and planted the bomb, sloppy work, good sized explosion though. Professional but in a hurry. Hope they left something behind.

Wishing he could have a smoke with his caf, Kordath closed his eyes and sighed. He hated flying, he hated shuttles, he hated being back on Selen where everyone watched him out of the corner of their eyes. His time spent under the machinations of the Perdition forces had left a sour taste in most people’s mouths when they saw him. A tone played over the intercom, and the Ryn roused, realizing he’d nodded off at some point.

Taking a sip of his caf he grimaced, it’d grown cold, which meant…

“We will be landing in Korda City in five minutes, please fasten your restraints and return to your seats. Thank you, for flying Air Selen.”

“Karkin’ finally,” he muttered, stretching as best he could in his seat, trying to work his tail’s circulation back up, wedged in the back of his chair as it was. Tapping his feet impatiently, he could hear the landing gear cycle as the shuttle settled down. With a sigh he watched the hatch hiss open, and knew his day could only get worse.

The Fades stood to follow, Sprout carrying an awkward bag over his shoulder.

As soon as Bleu stepped off the transport he knew he was right, gagging as the fragrant air of Korda City hit him. The Ryn hated this place, the manufacturing center of the planet was in perpetual smog, it was brighter at night when all the lights reflected from the dark sky then during the day. With a sniff, Kord squinted his eyes, hoping the burning sensation would go away, and knew that he’d spend the next week in the refresher scrubbing this smell out.

The Agent lead them from the shuttle to an enclosed speeder, settling in for yet another boring ride. As they road, the serious looking black jacket tried to brief him on the situation, repeating what was in the datapad. He also felt the need to mention that ‘Zratis Arms Manufacturing was a company that manufactured weapons.’

“What would we do without the DIA,” muttered the Ryn under his breath as the speeder came to a stop. With a groan he and his Fade’s exited, the Agent giving them a nod and closing the door as they got out. Kordath turned to find himself face to chest with a tall Human who looked surprised.

“Master Bleu, thank you for coming so quickly!” stated the man, speaking to Strong and extending a hand.

Kordath looked from the Fade, who had the decency to blush just a tad, and the Human DIA Officer.

“Oi. I’m Bleu. He’s with me.”

The man’s face swiveled down and recoiled in surprise at being presented with the Ryn’s mustachioed visage. Said mustaches were quivering in indignity as he glared up at the officer.

“My…apologies, Master Bleu, I, ah, well. Sorry. I didn’t expect you to be so, well…small.”

“Blow it out yer arse, smoothskin, you got anythin’ to actually show me here? Besides the smokin’ crater behind ya.”

“Well, ah,” the officer blinked, trying to ignore the smells wafting up from the Arconan as he spoke. Stale cigarette smoke, alcohol and caf, mixed with the smell of wet hair and the general smog of Korda City did not make for a pleasant scent. “One of the forensic teams found what we believe to be the device that caused the explosion.”

“It’s called a bomb, ya git,” growled Kordath, watching the man wave at a figure in a white jumpsuit, who came scurrying over with a clear bag filled with mangled electronics. Another growl followed as the forensic officer tried to hand said bag to Strong. Bleu tore open the do not tamper seal, much to the annoyance of the white suited man, and dumped the contents out on the ground to squat over them.

“Well then, lesse who done what,” he muttered to himself, picking up pieces and focusing on them with the Force. Kordath’s forehead bunched up as he concentrated, trying to ignore the lingering effects of his hangover and annoyance with the DIA. Picking up impressions and past events from an item was a new technique to the Ryn, he was still getting used to it, still he was able to glean something from it.


“Do you really think this is the time, Master Bleu? It could contaminate the scene or-”

“Not a smoke, Strong, smoke, somebody was smokin’ when they set this bloody thing up,” stated Kord, scanning the ground around them. “Too pungent to be a cigarette. Cigar? Cigarillo? EVERYBODY LOOK FOR A BLOODY CIGAR BUTT!” he shouted. “STOP BLEEDIN’ MOVIN’ ABOUT AND LOOK AT THE GROUND YA THICK SKULLED BUGGERS!”

Despite his shouts to not move, his mangling of the Basic tongue not helping, people shuffled about in small circles, staring at the ground. Kordath felt frustration well up even as he channeled the Force to his own eyesight, his vision darting about the area, trying to find some trace of what he’d smelled in the psychometric reading. A tingle at the back of his mind told him to turn around, just in time to see Sprouts pluck something from the debris ridden ground.

“Ah! Little Green! You found it? You are closer to the ground, so I suppose that makes sense, eh?”

“Always a short joke,” muttered the midget, holding up the burnt and frayed cigarillo butt. Kordath hopped to his feet and snatched it from his hands, holding it up closer to examine it, sniffing.

Licking his lips he glanced at his two companions, one blue, the other green, “Well it smells right, hmm, this part is gonna not be great fun, lads.”

Butt in hand, Kordath turned to find the officer watching him with a look of perplexion. “What?”

“Sorry, not used to watching your kind work, that’s all, Sir.”

Strong’s firm grip on the Ryn’s shoulder stopped him before the incident could really occur. Kordath felt his teeth grind as Sprout jumped in front of him, arms waving, “I think he means Force user, Kord! Not, ya know, uhh…”

“Sleemo,” he growled. “Listen, DIA spook number two, NO, don’t interrupt me, I don’t care what your name is at this point. You didn’t feel like introducin’ yerself when I got here, ya don’t get to argue about what I call ya. Me, Big Blue and Little Green here,” he stated, glaring at the man and waving at his Fades, “are gonna go track down yer bombers. Take it ya got men checkin’ whatever other warehouses and such is about? Don’t want nobody else gettin’ exploded by these loons.”

“All essential personnel have been evacuated while we search, yes, of course. At least no one important was hurt in this explosion.” The officer shrugged with nonchalance. He also blinked, and found the Ryn standing in front of him once more, a fire in his eyes, a perplexed Strong a few feet behind him.

“How did he…”

“Nobody important, mate? Just a few workin’ stiffs who got killed doin’ their bloody jobs, aye. Which is why I’m off ta find who done this, so no more of them get offed. You’ll not be callin’ the dead worthless, number two, ya hear?”

“Sir I-” the agent stopped in mid statement as he felt a pressure from below, glancing down to see the curved edge of one of Bleu’s daggers pressed along the bottom of his groin. He licked his lips, suddenly dry, “Sir, I meant, ah, no, uhh, offense…”

“Ya best not,” snarled Kordath, pulling his blade away. “Self entitled Human arseheads. Comeon, lads, we got some mad bloody bombers to track.”

Sprout hefted his bag up onto his shoulder, waddling awkwardly after the two others. “How?”

“How what?”

“How are we going to find them?”

Kord gave the little green man a grimace, “Well ya see, I got this cigarillo butt, right?”


“So ya see, I can, like, use the Force ta form a link with the bloke who left it. Or girl, could be a bloody woman bomber, wouldn’t surprise me, my luck. Best not be more Zeltrons, go me whole life without meetin’ another karkin’ Zeltron.”

“How is Misstress Aryelline doing since her promotion, Sir?”

“You know damn well she don’t count, Strong! Anyways, Little Green-”

“That’s not my name!”

“Not now, Sprout, anyways, like I was sayin’, I can use the Force to kinda track where the, ah, person, who dropped this wee bit of garbage back ta where they are now. Hopefully. If they’re not movin’ much.”

“Do you have a firm lead already, Master Bleu? Perhaps we should be moving faster!”

“Well I gotta focus pretty hard on this, Strong, so it’s gonna be a bit o’ slow goin’ from here on out. Just hope they ain’t left tha city–what the kark are ya doin’!?” screamed the Ryn as he was lifted off the ground and set on one of the big Fade’s shoulders. Eyes wide, the Arconan wrapped his tail around the Chiss man’s neck to hold on, wondering how ludicrous this looked to people on the street.

“If you must focus, allow me to do the running for you! This technique of jogging has been passed down the Garmis line for generations, I will not tire!”

“Runnin’? What? But if ya go too quick like, Sprout ain’t gonna be able ta keep up!” shouted Kordath, trying to convince the big man to end this foolishness before he could get a good trot going.

“Put me down!” shrieked Sprout as he was tucked up under Strong’s other arm, the big man already huffing along at a good jog.

“Which way, Master Bleu?”

Kordath swallowed back the escape attempt of his caf as the Chiss trotted down the sidewalk, a Falleen tucked under one arm, the Ryn on his shoulder. “L…left up ahead!” he shouted, forcing himself to keep an eye open while he focused on the cigar butt in his hand, watching the shimmer in the air that the Force was showing him. A trail to follow, hopefully not too far.

“Right, down that alley,” he screamed, one hand still holding the butt, the other clutching Strong’s head. He could still hear Sprout spouting a stream of obscenities from the other side of the massive Fade. “STOP!”

Strong came to an abrupt halt, causing both of his unwilling passengers to lurch and complain even more. “Put…us…down…Strong.”

“Ah, we’re here then? Excellent! What would you have me do, Master Bleu?”

“They’re, urp,” Kordath paused as he spoke, turning away from his Fades to toss up before continuing, wiping his mouth on his coat. “Oh Gods; they’re in the buildin’ on the corner, other end of the alley. Me and Sprout is gonna take tha roof opposite, yeah? You go ‘round to the other side and wait for me ta tickle yer brain, then go chargin’ in. We need ta take one or two alive, find out if they’re just loon’s or workin’ for somebody. Little Green, ya got what I think ya got in that bag you been haulin’?”

“If you think it’s the collapsible rifle Strong found for me, you’re right,” spoke the Falleen, looking even greener than normal. Kordath could feel the nausea coming off of the midget, and knew the little fella would love to shoot a few people. “So we need to find a ladder? Maybe they have some staaaaaaaaaaaaaaairs!”

“…why…why did you toss him up there, Strong?”

“It seemed to be the most efficient method, up you go, Master Bleu!”

“Wait, what? Gaaah!”

Kordath tried to tuck and roll as he hit the rooftop, bouncing a few times before coming to a stop.

“Please, please. Get off of me,” came the muffled voice of Sprout below him. The Ryn pushed up, rubbing his head and stumbling sideways as the Falleen got to his own feet. “Why did he think that was a good idea?”

“Because he’s karkin’ mad. Did he break yer gun?”

Sprout looked around where they’d landed, confusion evident, before hitting the rooftop again as a black bag sailed through the air and landed on him. “Thanks…Strong…” he muttered.

“Well here’s hopin’ we did nae make too much noise. Give the big blue idiot a chance ta get in position, I’ll see what I can feel out from over here. Stay low, anybody upstairs is gonna notice us quicklike, we keep movin’ ‘round.”

“Stay low, sure, jackass. Be amazed if they don’t know we’re here after Strong’s delivery method.”

Kordath and Sprout moved to the edge of the roof, still nursing bruises from the big Fade’s manner of tossing them. Crouching below the low wall that ran around the edge of the building, Kord closed his eyes and drew on the Force. The energy suffused him, burning off some of his fatigue and generally improving his mood.

“Ah, alright,” he said, peeking his head over the edge and pushing his Senses out. “I got…one, two, three of ‘em on the second floor, ‘nother half dozen on the first. Lotta ordnance upstairs. Whole lot, that comes inta play we’ll have a bad time, might blow up Strong when he goes runnin’ in.”

“So we’re aiming for the guys downstairs?”

“We’re nae lettin’ ‘em kill Strong, Little Green,” said the Ryn with strained patience. An idea crossed the Arconan’s mind, a grin breaking the look of concentration he was holding. “Ya got that A280 ready?”

Sprout laid the barrel of his armor piercing rifle on the edge of the roof, placing himself behind the scope. They’d cut the stock down significantly for the small guy to get behind it, but the little Falleen’s marksmanship was more than proficient. The weapon being longer than Sprout was tall when full put together made the image laughable, but having a midget that could put holes through a tank was in the Ryn’s opinion, pretty bloody handy.

“I’m ready. Don’t see anybody through the windows.”

“Ya wouldn’t, they’re hangin’ about around a table, middle of the room or so.”

“So what, I’m guessing?”

“Not quite,” spoke the smug Ryn, waving a hand at the wall across the alleyway. A trio of shimmering red X’s appeared on the surface, projected through the Force and Bleu’s will. “Think ya can get all three before they move? Not sure I can track and maintain the illusions at the same time.”

“This isn’t gonna be quiet, you know that, right? When I start shooting, the one’s downstairs are gonna know.”

“Let Big Blue handle that, Little Green, just be ready to pick off anybody who tries to scurry off. Legshots, eh? Need some prisoners to give over to the DIA.”

“Fine,” said Sprout, taking a few steadying breaths to get himself into a rhythm. Readying the rifle he gave the Ryn a little nod, “Ready then.”

“Grand, let’s get this over with and go home. Do the thing, Little Green.”

Three shots rang out, the armor piercing laser rounds making loud crack sounds as the rifle fired. Duracrete and brick alike exploded as the wall was pierced, and Kordath felt surprise, fear, and then nothing from the three targets upstairs. Downstairs it was like someone had kicked a hive of insects over. With a light push of the Force, he brushed Strong’s mind with a simple sense of ‘do it.’

“Good shots, mate, stay up and here and see if anybody comes runnin’.”

“Where the hell are you going?” asked the Falleen, watching Kordath swing a leg over the short wall.

“Gonna go back up Strong, there’s about a half dozen of ‘em after all,” he stated, waving as he rolled over the side, landing on the alley with a little cushioning of telekinetic Force usage. Reaching back into his coat, he drew a dagger and rolled his shoulders. Now he just needed a way in.

From above he heard Sprout shout, “Do you really think he needs help? Or that going in there is a good idea?”

Before the Ryn could retort, shouting from inside drew his attention, even through the wall.


That was when Kordath got his entrance, as a portion of the wall shattered outwards, a body propelled through it. Bleu heard a little moan from the figure, though he wasn’t moving, covered in mortar and dust. Sticking his head through the newly formed hole, he sighed and shook his head. Strong had, almost predictably to those who knew the big Chiss, shed his shirt and jacket to do battle.

Twin vibro-knucklers on the big blue Fade’s hands sung out as he blocked blows from improved melee weapons and returned vicious strikes to his victims. Kordath crept in, watching as the muscular Chiss grabbed a particularly slow assailant and spun him in the air, striking one of the other bombers hard enough to put him through one of the inner walls of the building. Another blow sent a target sliding across the the floor to Kordath, who kicked the man in the side of the head when he tried to get up.

Left with the one he was holding, who was crying in Strong’s grip, and one other which the Chiss was stalking towards. This one felt a desire to live without major reconstructive surgery, darting out a door and into the streets. A strangled cry was heard, along with the report of an A280 blaster rifle moments after he got out of the building. Strong was smiling, his red eyes aflame as he looked about the room. With an offhand motion he brought the one he was holding up and glared at him.

Kordath let out a gagging sound as a puddle formed under the bomber, who then went limp. Strong grunted in approval and tossed him aside, snapping to attention towards the Ryn.

“Master Bleu, happy to report that all enemies have been disabused of the notion of running away!”

“Grand, call the DIA, get ‘em down here. They’ll want ta interrogate the lot of ‘em. And put your bloody shirt on, Strong, dunno why ya feel the need ta flaunt the muscles liket hat when ya fight.” The Ryn looked tired suddenly, his usage of the Force having drained him.

“The intimidation factor, of course! Also the Garmis family has ever been proud of its noble physique, one should never be ashamed to show off such a work of art!”

“Great, good, put on a jacket or somethin’. Think I saw a couch over there,” muttered the Arconan, moving some of the debris to uncover said piece of furniture. Collapsing into it, moments later he was asleep, confident the Fades could take care of the rest. He deserved a bloody day off from this insanity.


The Citadel, Estle City
Dajorra System

“No other explosions reported?” the blindfolded Seer inquired.

“None,” replied Braecen.

“And the warehouses in Korda that were hit? The wounded?”

“Emergency responders have all left the scene as clean-up crews report in. Styx is overseeing them. All civilian casualties have been taken to medcenters as you ordered, my Lady. Our own injured were few, and recover in bacta tanks as we speak. A few of our people are still missing in action.” Keys tapped, clack-clack-clack. “Young Knight Sang-Kalinor is stable, yes?”

“He was burned badly and lost limbs…but nothing I and bacta cannot attempt to mend. Once he awakens, perhaps we can finally have some more answers.”

“Should I call Argona?” The dark-haired, violet-eyed Kaeth paused. “Either — well, any — of them?”

“Ashla and Bogan, no, Starbuck. He needs rest, not an interrogation. Zakky and the others have plenty to apply themselves as is,” the Shadow Lady responded, distaste at the prospect evident in her tone. She swiveled her sightless gaze to her other Quaestor. “Alright, then, and what of our databases, our security? Our funds?”

The Erinos gave a half-shrug. “Not quite robbed as blind as—”

“Celahir, dear, much as I enjoy the jokes…”

“We’ve been set back,” the Qel-Droman went on more seriously, fingers flitting over the datapad in his hands. “Particularly in munitions when those warehouses went up. It looks like they might’ve accessed several of our databanks too, and the DIA is still investigating what intel, exactly, might’ve slipped. However,” he offered with a grin, “we managed to contain most of the damage and kick those di’kuts in their teeth before they could do more.”

“Uji?” The Miraluka turned to her Scion, who stood beside her at the head of the table, neglecting his own seat to her right. “Enemy movements?”

“The DDF has successfully routed this Lorden’s Horizon-class Star Yacht out of Dajorran space. They are in pursuit now. Officer Marinus is due to report shortly, as are Timeros and Sashar,” stated the Sentinel, his narrow eyes fixed on the holoprojections of Korda and Estle City that hovered above the meeting table. His tone was cold steel. As if Pravus’ tyrannical madness wasn’t enough to combat, now they suffered this attack as well. The Proconsul’s stance remained calm, but his gaze was constantly flickering these days, belaying a mind now consumed with strategies, defenses and all manner of war.

“For it to truly be that damnable Muun behind this debacle…” ground out the blue bulk of a man nearly too tall and wide for his chair, his maw-toothed helm on the table before him. Though Wuntila had calmed in his time away, his promise still carried conviction. “It is an insult. I shall crush him.”

“Yeah, and, uh, for those of us who ain’t been at this kark for ages, who the ‘ell is that, again?” called a voice from the door. Kordath, a towel slung over his shoulders and a finger stuck twisting in his ear, stepped inside, his hair still dripping.

The Ryn had been present at the start of the meeting but, for the sake of the lungs and lifespans of all those present, had been asked to go bathe as soon as his report was finished. He’d delivered it in an exhausted slur — he and his Fades had tracked the warehouse bombers down and seized the cabal for interrogation by the DIA. The “testimonies” of the bombers had further corroborated what Arconan agents had already decrypted from the anomalous gravitational wave readings they’d picked up: the man behind this insurrection was a Muun named Tehr Lorden, and he was not, in fact, unfamiliar to the Shadow Clan.

Several noses still curled as the Rollmaster flopped into a seat. He gave the room an irritated glare. “Oi, ya dinnae get to complain about wet rat smell if yer gonna make me shower first. So…?”

“Lorden,” the Galeren Aedile and Arconae began, “was the Chief Financial Officer of Naruba Investments, one of our front establishments, if you will recall. After Aneti’s fall, under Timeros’ reign, he was decommissioned.”

No one present had to ask for clarification on the meaning of that particular statement.

“He fled into exile, and evaded numerous assassins. He was nothing, forgotten. An afterthought.”

“Got a bit of a bite for an afterthought, eh, mate?” Kordath scathed, tail twitching. “Bloody arrogant…”

“Gentlemen, please,” Atyiru interrupted, flowing gently to her feet, her command swift and smooth. “Our concerns, our lives, are here, today. And today, we may be thankful for these small victories.”

“The point is,” piped up Terran Koul in an overly cordial drawl, kicking his boots up on the tabletop and causing the projection to fuzz momentarily. “that we won. Maybe, gents, lady, we could forget the brooding long enough to enjoy that a bit, hmm?”


A silent sigh seemed to pass through most of the gathered Summit as the doors were flung open with yet another disturbance, the Summit guardsmen bowing to two new figures. Timeros Caesus Entar strode in like a ghost, chill and imposing, while a lavander mass of veritable madness skipped along beside him, her heels clicking.

K’tana’s palms slammed down on the table as she half-tripped to a stop, her lekku thrown over her shoulders. She pointed at no one in particular and declared, “I. Am. BORED. And you’re all boring, and are we done yet? Shouldn’t we be celebrating? Drinks, glitter, SOMETHING!”

“K’tana,” Timeros murmured, dread rolling off him in waves, causing the Rollmaster to cringe while the Gatewardeness merely grinned.

“Is right? I knoooow.”

“K’tana,” the Consul called, more gently, and the Twi’lek’s demeanor blinked away as she dipped her head in supplication. “Calm a moment more, please. Brother, your report?”

“Our mission to Boral is completed,” the Entar answered mechanically. Uji waved to Kaeth, who then waved to his Aedile, to take note. “Fruitfully. I have compiled a summary and accorded the DIA custody of our prisoners for further interrogation.”

“Following your own, I presume?”


“Very well.” The Shadow Lady’s hands folded, prayer like, in her lap as she observed the room, the Force swirling around them to a heartbeat rhythm.

“So again, what you’re saying is, we won,” Terran repeated, drawing a snort from Celahir.

“There are no victors in war or death,” Atyiru whispered, then shook her head and gave a smile that burned brightly. “But so to say, yes, my friends…in this, we’ve won.”


Horizon - class Star Yatch Momo Neymopro Blems
Dajorra System

The stars stretched to contrails around the sleek hull of the Momo Neymopro Blems as the ship jumped to hyperspace. Tehr Lorden wiped a few beads of sweat from his brow as he observed his Sullustan companion. They Horizon-class Star Yacht had been detected leaving the Dajorra system, but they had made the jump before their pursuers could get within firing range. Barely. With Laiv bent over the helm’s terminal, no doubt triple checking the course for the second leg of their journey, the Muun businessman allowed himself the briefest hint of smile. Conscientious to a fault - that was Laiv. It was why the Muun had recruited him so many years ago. Always pick the right tool for the job.

A chirrirp from his personal commlink brought Tehr Lorden from his reverie, and he quickly stood and strode from the ship’s bridge into its elongated galley. Taking a seat at the Dejarik table in the corner, Lorden keyed in an intricate sequence of symbols on the table’s controls. A few moments passed as the encryption module in the table validated the passcode and prepared a secure channel, then the holo-emitters sparked to azure life. A now-familiar figure, half a meter in height, seemed to perch atop the table. Though shrouded, as usual, by a cloak, the tell-tale crimson eyes glowed from beneath the hologram’s hood.

“Report, Mr. Gray.” The words were the same as before, and their tone close enough to have been a recording. Nonetheless, the voice continued to tickle at the Muun’s memory, a mystery begging to be unraveled. But not here. And not now.

“The plan succeeded without deviation, sir. It appears that we even managed to injure a few of the Arconans with our little surprise. We’re en-route now, though with our circuitous path, it’ll be several hours before we make the rendezvous.”

“As expected, Mr. Gray. What of Strike Team Esk?”

“Laiv forged identities for them planet-side. They’ve joined one of the construction crews tasked with clean-up on the site above the facility we uncovered. We’ve arranged dead-drops for them should they learn anything useful.”

The figure’s hood dipped as he nodded in acknowledgement, then steepled his fingers in front of him. “And they spotted you leaving the system?”

“They did. We were running a false transponder, but I suspect they’ll see through the deception in short order. Is Phase Two ready?”

“It will be soon. I’m just sharpening the knife. While Arcona is still off balance, we’ll shove it in and twist.”

“As you say, Mr. Blue.” Lorden grinned toothily at the thought, and there was nothing brief about it. First Arcona, then this Mr. Blue. Once they’re out of the way, I’ll have Dajorra in the palm of my hand.


Plaintext Version


YT-2400 - class Freighter Dragon’s Wings
Dajorra System

Klaxons filled the small cockpit and the freighter pilot’s youthful complexion grew worried. His blue eyes darted to the ship’s control board as he took a step towards his seat, but the sudden lurching of the freighter threw him forward, slamming him into the console. The steaming mug of caf flew from his hands, shattering against the transparisteel viewport as the elongated contrails of hyperspace resolved themselves into the brilliant pinpricks of stars.


Lysander pulled himself to his feet, sweeping his long, raven black hair behind him and sliding adroitly into the pilot’s seat, fingers dancing across the ship’s controls and silencing the alarm. Barely pausing for a breath, he called back over his shoulder to the passenger in the freighter’s galley.

“We’ve been hit by an interdiction field. Looks like there’s two ships on our six, half a klick and gaining. No way I can lose them at this rate.”

A hulking figure strode through the doorway in striking yellow and black armor. Accented in blue to match his skin, it fit him like a carapace and shined like onyx. The resplendent armor was dull beside the fire in his cobalt eyes, and his unyielding countenance made clear his thoughts on a pack of impertinent pirates trying to hijack his ship.

“Let them come.” His tone was half smirk and half snarl, and his fingertips played over the dragon-headed hilt at his waist.

The pilot took a moment to look back at his brother, his own fingers running softly over a chiselled cheekbone, feeling the telltale sting where it had struck the ship’s console. After a moment, he nodded. “As you say, Wun.”

Even as the words left his lips, a second alarm, higher in pitch than the first, sounded from the weapons console. “They’ve locked a tractor beam on us,” stated Lysander flatly, punctuating it with a sigh that bespoke aggravation and inevitability in equal parts.

“Arm yourself then, brother,” replied the storied Arconae, nodding to the Sapphire Blade at Lysander’s hip. “It’s past time your blade tasted blood.”


The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

“How are your treatmentzzz going?”

“They’re fine, Grandfather,” mumbled the young Kaleesh from behind his mask, fiddling with the pipe in his clawed fingers. A berry-colored puff of smoke emitted from it, making the pale Zabrak woman to his left wrinkle her sharp nose and recline further into her humanoid seat.

Zakath gave a nod in response to Skar’s answer, his tail tighening around his adoptive daughter’s ankle at her movement. “Good. I would have not liked sending you to the Jeedai after all.”

Nath snorted outright at that, a strong expression as far as the reticent woman was concerned. The Barabel merely patted her arm. “See, I don’t need to keep my promise,” she said shortly before lapsing back into her lounging silence.

“Yes, yes, Mother,” grumbled the Kaleesh. “I will make our family and Arcona proud.”

“Yezzz, you will,” Zakath asserted, his talons clacking. “And you will have many opportunitiez to come, both with the Inquisitoriuzzz and these foolish attackerz to our home.”

“Has anything more been found out, Grandfather?”

“We are tracking them now,” the Barabel said, his glowing eyes flashing with expertly controlled rage. “The damaged partz of the city are being rebuilt, and our remaining prisonerz have…taken their leave. We have beat these cowardzzz back once already, and we will do so again until they are no more.”

Nath gave a pleased sound at that, her hands twirling a small knife. Zakath gave a toothy facsimile of a grin, and Skar growled defensively.

“Nothing can stop Arcona,” the Kaleesh hissed, and his patriarch raised one taloned finger to caution him.

“Do not underestimate our enemiez, Rrogan. I have a sense that there iz yet more to come…a greater enemy waiting in the wingzzz to strike.”


YT-2400 - class Freighter Dragon’s Wings
Dajorra System

The black-clad figure cut through the air, his outsized nerf-hide coat flaring as he came down from his leap and slammed his fist into the larger man’s face. Caramel flesh met cobalt and a sickening crack split through the galley, driving the Dragon to his knees.

Lysander scrabbled for the nearby pilot’s seat, hauling himself to a sitting position - his legs had been numb and useless since the first blast of lightning struck him in the back. His blue eyes were glued to the short man who had boarded their vessel. The intruder moved with preternatural grace, spinning on the ball of his foot and slamming the durasteel toe of his heavy combat boots into Wuntila’s chest.

“Come on, old man.” The cocksure youth’s tone set Lysander’s teeth on edge, and he grimaced as he tried to clear his head. “You can do better than that!”

Acting on instinct, the pilot’s hand dropped to his trusty DH-17 pistol, practically ripping it from his holster and firing a salvo of crimson bolts at the dark-haired man. The young Kiffar turned before the first bolt had left the barrel, raising a hand that showed nearly as much derision as the smirk on his face. The fiery bolts dissipated as they hit his palm, and the intruder’s lips curved into a snarl that had nothing to do with pain. He flicked his hand and Lysander felt the blaster twist in his grip. The twist blossomed into pain, his trigger finger snapping as the DH-17 was ripped from his grasp and hurled across the freighter’s small cabin.

The pilot’s pale skin - almost translucent in the best of times - grew paler still as he reflexively pulled his hand to his middle, cradling it. He grit his teeth, trying to stand, but the boarder turned away dismissively, as if Lysander was no more than a distraction.

Distraction or not, Wuntila had taken full advantage of the intervening seconds, and the black-clad figure turned back just in time for the mountain of a man to crash bodily into him, propelling the pair across the ship’s galley and slamming the intruder into the hull. The younger man’s head cracked against the durasteel wall, and Lysander dared to hope it would take the fight out of him. The intruder moved faster than thought, putting the lie to Lysander’s hopes as his fists crashed upwards, slamming through the Dragon’s grip with unnatural strength. His head came forward, smashing brutally into the blue-skinned man’s nose, and a spray of crimson soaked the young man’s face and jacket as the former Consul staggered backwards.

As the hulking half-Theelin regained his footing, the boarder tried to wipe the blood from his face with a sleeve. The movement only served to smear it around, and he shrugged out of the jacket, revealing a sleeveless Mandalorian mail vest beneath. Though he wore a lightsaber at his belt, he drew the pair of trench knives sheathed at his back and circled calmly around his blue-skinned opponent. Teroch. The name clicked in Lysander’s mind like a lockpin tumbling into place. Sashar’s bastard son. He’s back.

The pilot finally managed to regain his feet and resolutely drew the Sapphire Blade his brother had gifted him in his off hand. There are worse ways to die, I suppo— The thought was fleeting, and cut off abruptly by a cacophonous roar. His brother’s head lifted, bellowing, and the bigger man’s hands moved like liquid lighting, unsheathing his dragon-headed saber and swiping towards the Erinos before it had even lit. The blade snap-hissed to life, amethyst light flooding the galley and bathing the two opponents in its soft glow. The former Arconan bent backwards at the waist, nearly horizontal with the deck as the blade passed above him, crackling through the air. He recovered in an instant, bringing himself vertical and lunging into a crouch, his blades angled upwards towards the former Consul’s solar plexus.

The Dragon was quicksilver, darting out of range and swirling back in, punching towards the clone. The reverse grip on his lightsaber turned the punch into a sweeping strike, angled to decapitate the erstwhile Arconae. Teroch flowed backward, smooth as a river running downstream. The pillar of amethyst fire burned through his vest, but it left his skin unscathed as he spun to the right, behind the arc of Wuntila’s blade. His trench knives whipped out, slicing furrows across the Dragon’s back and sides. The Arconae growled, turning into a backswing aimed to bisect the younger man from hip to shoulder.

Teroch rolled under the blow, toward the mountainous Battlelord. Lysander opened his mouth to call a warning, but the Kiffar’s blades sunk into Wuntila’s sides before the words could form. With a resolute grimace, Teroch drew the knives upward, laying open his flanks. The Dragon’s lightsaber fell from his grip, going dark as it clattered against the deck. Lysander froze, not quite believing his eyes. He had seen his brother fight. He had seen him prevail against insurmountable odds. To see him beaten by this…child

Before the pilot could finish the thought, the son of Sashar turned towards him. His black hair was tousled and mussed, his face splattered with his elder’s blood, and his tattered vest hung half-off him. He smiled briefly. Then the trench knife flew from his hands. Fire erupted in Lysander’s gut, and he looked down to see a pool of crimson spreading across his light blue shirt, radiating out from the knife in his middle. The pain buckled his knees and he found himself back on the deck, looking at the flight cabin’s ceiling.

The young man’s face peeked into Lysander’s vision as Teroch knelt to retrieve his blade. Locking his blue eyes with the former Arconan’s brown, he mouthed a single word. Why?

“I have a message I need delivered to my father.” The dark-haired man’s voice seemed to waver between sincerity and mockery. “And I think the two of you will do nicely.”

Lysander saw the Kiffar turn casually as he left his field of vision. With no other options, his eyes moved to the transparisteel viewport. The view in front of the ship was fairly routine. I could almost fool myself into thinking I could see Selen in the distance. His head lolled slightly to the side as he heard the snap-hiss of, he assumed, the young Mandalorian’s lightsaber. It seemed distant, though. At the corner of the viewport he could barely make out the fringes of the Crabhorn Nebula. The mottled greens and purples, interspersed with scarlet streaks, had long been his favorite sight on these treks to and from Selen. They made it worth it. Hell, the chance to see it up close was half of why I became a pilot in the first place. If only the ship would move itself a few degrees to port…

The pilot heard a small crackling, plasma on durasteel, then the small hiss of air escaping the ship’s hull. Just a few degrees…

Then he heard nothing at all.


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Cool, calculating eyes the color of half-frozen mud fell on ash.

Ash, rubble, and twisted metal. The crumbling remains of the warehouses before him had gone cold in the handful of weeks since the first explosions — originating here — had rocked the city. While other sections of their industrial sector were already being attended to, he had quietly ordered this particular handful of decimated buildings to be quarantined.

Heavy, clacking footsteps approached from behind the man, one of Estle’s classic mountain breezes lifting his hair and scattering dust. His knife-sharp gaze continued dissecting the wreckage, even as he spoke.

“Greetings, Agrona.”

“Lord Proconzul. It haz been some time since we last spoke without holoz. Who knowzzz you’re here?”

“Atyiru, and yourself, and so it will stay.”


Uji Tameike finally turned, his hands folded neatly behind his back, ensconced in the sleeves of his robe. His saber hung unlit on his belt. His stare was unflinching as it combed over the black-scaled Barabel towering next to him. Zakath dipped his mawed head in a respectful gesture, and the Shadow Scion nodded back.

“What are we here for, Proconzul?”

The Human pointed with his chin, saying shortly, “This was the site of the first attack during Lorden’s incursion. Knight Sang-Kalinor was found where you stand.”

“Lorden waz repelled. What more iz there for uz to see here?”

“Our mission is not just to serve the Clan and carry out the Shadow Lady’s wishes, Agrona. I will not stand traitors among us. Not the Inquisitorius or anyone else. You and Tal’Mahe’Ra have already made progress, but your focus is too narrow. The Inquisition is not our only enemy. Do you know what Kalinor was doing here?”

“Following orderz, I presume,” said the Barabel, the hiss of his voice scathing.

“He was not following any orders I issued. More importantly, he was not following Atyiru’s.” The Proconsul turned back to the detritus spread before them. He thought of the Nighthawk, out that very moment searching for any footholds their enemy might have, cloaked and silent. He thought of Shadow Gate, smuggling supplies through their channels in Ol’Val to predetermined drop points for the Resistance to pick up. “There are those in our ranks that would oppose our aiding the Odanites. They, not the Inquisitorius or the Muun, are responsible for this.”

Beside him, Zakath growled, a terrible sound like crashing rocks. His talons clacked on his weapons belt. “So we route them out, az we have the Inquisitorzzz. Being clanmatez doez not excuse one from punishment of idiocy.”

The Scion’s hands never strayed from where they rested, never twitched towards his weapon, but his grave countenance was condemnation enough as he glanced from his subordinate to the Citadel’s spires far behind them. His words were flat and certain when he spoke. “In time. I will find each and every one of them, and they will be dealt with, by any means necessary.”

“And the Shadow Lady?”

“We live to serve,” Uji replied. “Whether or not she wills it.”


Erinos Homestead, Venku Range
Arconae Primus, Dajorra System

“Mi…Mia?” the broad-shouldered young man rasped. He tried to breathe and could not. His chest was cold and his lungs felt heavier than the beskar his forge shaped. For a brief, sluggish heartbeat, he worried over the fact that his body was no longer screaming at him, the multitude of wicked plasma burns and bleeding lacerations crisscrossing his skin felt oddly numb. Numb like his fingers, like…no, that wasn’t what was important. Mitra. Trikar. Where were they?

Briikase spit blood and coughed, trying to draw the air for more words, to call louder. “Mia! Trikki! A-a…ANSWER ME!”

Their home was silent. Horror, colder and sharper than any of his pains, gripped the man. He pushed himself to his knees, thickly muscled arms trembling, then dragged one leg, the one that was not broken, under him. His vision blurred, and he focused on his foot, staring at it. Move, he thought. Move! His twin brother. His sister. He had to find them. He had to. Move, you shabuir!

His foot slid along the floor, its bottom pressing flat, and his leg bent. Briikase bared his teeth in an expression that wasn’t a smile, digging his strong fingers into the stone and pushing upwards. His leg wobbled, and he half-stood.

A boot planted firmly between his shoulderblades and slammed him down into the floor. His cheek cracked under the supernatural impact, sending waves of hot, red-tinged darkness crashing through his skull. A whine escaped him, pained and nearly intelligible. “Trikaaar…Mi…traaa…”

“You know, vod…” The word was twisted, warped, no semblance of brotherhood to it, just venom. “It’s almost a shame Mitra and me never got on, her always tagging after Voden and all, not like us and Trik. She’s really quite the fighter. You all were.”

“Wha…do…to them?” the downed blacksmith asked around crimson spittle.

“I cut them to pieces.” Mangled, angry laughter came from above him, and Briikase turned his head just infinitesimally enough to wheel his eyes around, watching the man he had once known as his older brother, one of his best friends, his family, drag a bloody hand through his mussed, dark hair and sneer. Aliit ori’shya tal’din, Sashar had told them all when he adopted them into his clan. Family is more than blood. “Never heard Mitra do much more than curse and gloat, but you know, she did cry for dear dad in the end there.” The metal-capped toe of the boot on his back ground into his spine. “As if any of you have a right to call him father. You three are nothing! Nothing.” He laughed again. “And yet the old man’s still gonna cry over you.”

The weight on his back lifted, and Briikase dragged in a ragged breath. A kick plowed into his side, rolling him over and making him gurgle, that heavy feeling in his chest pooling at the back of his throat.

Walls. The smoke-colored ceiling. The holo of he, Trikar, Mitra, Teroch, Sashar, and Voden on the mantel. It was old, five or so years old, from he and Trikar’s ninth birthday. They hadn’t had a chance to take another. Father had been gone, and then too much, they too busy, the Erinos clan and…and…what? Above him. Walls. The ceiling. Teroch. Teroch. The Kiffar’s tan face was manic, wild with rage, but his dark eyes were cold and flat, their wrath like iron. He snarled, and then that boot came back, settling almost gently on Briikase’s windpipe.

And then it began to press.


Entar House
Gethsemane, Erebos, Dajorra System

Dark brown eyes surveyed the grassy fields and played over the rolling hills that cradled them. The window, situated on the topmost floor of a corner room in the northwestern most mansion of Entar House, was unblemished, wholly untouched by technology or society. Not even gardeners tended the fields - the mix of geothermal energy was enough to offset the cold death of entropy that threatened any celestial body this far from a system’s sun. Enough, and no more. So long as the planet’s fires still burned, this small enclave of faux fertility would flourish. In the end, though, entropy would win out. And the darkness would have its due. Such are the lessons of life. No light burns so bright it can escape the darkness for long. That, after all, was what had brought such an unlikely group together.

Clearing his throat, the young-again clone turned his gaze back to his compatriots and took a few steps towards the center of the room. Just a few years ago, such a gathering would have been unthinkable. Then again, a few years ago their Clan hadn’t had a Jetii’ad at its head.

“Times change. Priorities shift. Grandmasters rise and fall. Arcona is constant - must be constant. We have worked too hard, sacrificed too much…” The stern drawl of his voice tapered off, and for a moment flashes of New Tython filled his vision.

The Jedi city was awash in a firestorm of hate. Sashar’s head canted left and, through the T-shaped visor, he could see his best friend, his vod. They had stayed behind, knowing what it would mean. Knowing there was no other way. Some sacrifices were worth it. Their eyes, the same dark brown, met, and Zandro cracked a smile without a trace of pain or regret. Then his skin turned to charred paper, crackling, and blew apart in a gust of flame.

The Mandalorian bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, and the vision blew apart like his brother’s flesh. Clearing his throat again, he forced himself to continue. “We have sacrificed too much to let Arcona crumble under the wrath of a Grandmaster mad with power and slaved to purity. And that wrath is exactly what this child invites down upon us!”

“Hear hear!” echoed one of his companions from an oversized chair along the wall.

Sashar needlessly ran a hand through his close-cropped black hair, using the gesture as an excuse to eye the speaker. The Entar was unnaturally young, though whether a trademark of his species or some unnatural Force-fueled alchemy was a topic of hot debate. Despite the solemn eyes and immaculately groomed hair, the white linen suit looked comical on Strategos, like a child dressing up in his parents clothes. If his parents ran a cartel of death-stick dealers. Few people knew Strategos, former Consul, remained active among the Arconae. Fewer still would recognize his appearance. That could be useful in the days to come, if the Erinos Patriarch could convince him to take part in their plans. It would take a great deal of planning to draw Atyiru to the Shadows while remaining unseen. But if Arcona was to continue to thrive, their Consul would have to be brought to see the truth. The only question was how to convince her.

“So, step one: bring down the Consul.”

Or not… The Erinos clone suppressed a snort as the Entar stood, telekinetically floating his tumbler to a nearby table. Instead, he studied the meeting’s other two attendees. All four of them had known each other for decades. They had been friends - and, at times, enemies - and their acquaintance had outlasted death itself. Still, he wasn’t sure how far they could be trusted in this. Timeros, in particular, would be a difficult sell. As for the fourth…

His musings cut off abruptly as something Strategos had said set of alarm bells in his mind. He quickly replayed the last few seconds of the conversation.

“You want to make them think we were responsible for the bombings?”

The overdressed Arconae chuckled and shook his head. “No, ad’ika,” the Entar replied mockingly. “I already have.”

Their fourth member leapt from his seat, datapad tumbling from his fingers in shock. He took a few steps towards the cultured former Consul. “You did what?” he demanded.

“Calm yourself, Celahir.” Rather than escalate the confrontation, the smartly-dressed Entar took a step back and gestured towards his brandy. The glass rose in the air and sailed gently into his hand. He took a sip, then met the eyes of each companion in turn. “I - or rather my agents among the DIA - left bits and pieces of evidence - scraps, really - that suggested an Arconae might be responsible for the attacks. If I know our vengeful Proconsul - and I think I do - he’ll put together the pieces sooner rather than later.”

“And when he does?” The younger Erinos’ words were clipped, impatient.

When a response came, it wasn’t from Strategos. Timeros’ voice was quiet and contemplative. Though it was clear he hadn’t been briefed on his fellow Entar’s machinations, he was quick to follow them to their logical conclusion. “He will start a witchhunt. One that is sure to foment rebellion among those who rightfully know their Clanmates are innocent.”

“At which point,” Sashar continued, grasping the brutal simplicity of the plan, “Atyiru has no choice but to turn to us for help. Then we lead her down our path.”

The eldest Entar shrugged nonchalantly. “Lead her. Kill her. Either way, Arcona will reclaim her former glory and we’ll buy the time and security we need, without needing to worry about Pravus or the Inquisitorius.”

Though Celahir’s face seemed pensive, unsure, Sashar saw Timeros nodding along thoughtfully. “It has potential.”

Sashar let the briefest hint of a smile crack across his stone-planed jaw. He thought of the homestead on Arconae Primus, of Briikase at the forge, and of Arcona united once more. No light burns so bright it can escape the darkness for long. But for now his flickered, at least.

Then the light went out.


Port Ol’val
Dajorra System

It was raining.

Alree hated the rain. It made her fur stick to her and it was cold and she did not like being wet one bit. And Meeka smelled when he was wet. He smelled bad.

The little Cathar girl stuck a foot out and jabbed at her little brother, a toothy pout on her face. The smaller boy let out a yelp, his teeth showing.

Hey!” he hissed. “Mother, she hit me!”

“Stop it, you two,” their mother said from where she stood over by the door, staring out a small crack. “Be quiet. You have to be quiet.” They were in a tiny room with flat gray walls and hard floors and a leaky roof and Alree hated it here too but Mother had made them come. They’d had to walk all the way, in the rain, and Mother hadn’t let her take her doll, hadn’t let them take anything good. Just clothes and stuff. Stupid stuff. Alree didn’t care. She wanted to go home. Why’d they even have to leave?

She kicked her brother again. He sprang up to his feet and hissed at her, and she hissed back. His hand cuffed her ear.

MOTHER,” yowled Alree. “Meeka hit me, he hit me!”

“She hit me more! First! First, she hit me first.”

“I said quiet!” growled Mother, rounding on them suddenly and looming all the way to the ceiling. Alree shrank back, elbowing Meeka for trying to duck behind her. Mother grabbed them by their shoulders, one of her big hands each, her eyes wide and voice very important and scary and were they in trouble? Alree didn’t want to be in trouble. Stupid smelly Meeka.

“Sorry,” whispered her brother, and she mumbled the same, wrinkling her nose.

“Alree, Meeka, listen to me,” Mother said, gripping them tighter. “You have to be quiet.”

“Why?” Alree stomped her foot. “Why? This is dumb and I hate it and why can’t we go home?”

“We’re leaving, children. We can’t stay. It’s not safe.”

Alree blinked, then frowned, grabbing Meeka’s arm and hugging it. “Why?” she said again, tiny this time.

Mother moved to pet their hair, looking over her shoulder at the door again. She looked over there a lot. “There are some people looking for us. Bad people. Understand? Strangers. What are you supposed to do with strangers?”

“Not talk to them or go to their speeders or talk to them and come get you.”

“That’s right. You don’t talk to these people either, understand? Don’t even go near them. They’re here, so we have to go.”

Alree unhunched the slightest bit, her pout returning. “I don’t wanna. Make them go.”

“I can’t, sweet cub. I can’t. We’ve got to go, okay? Mother has a friend that is going to help us leave.”

“But…” Alree protested, eyes watering. She inhaled snottily, wiping her face on her hand. She wiped that on Meeka. He stepped on her toes. “But Father’s here.”

For a second, Mother looked funny, her face getting all scrunchy like Meeka’s did when he was gonna cry. But Mother didn’t cry. She was Mother. Maybe she had to sneeze. Alree was about to suggest using Meeka’s shirt when her mother covered her eyes with a hand, then pulled it away and smiled.

“I know, little cub. But he’s with us wherever we go. Right? So it’s okay to leave.”

Alree thought briefly of the jar back in their apartment, then about her dolls, and not being wet, before nodding. “But Meeka can’t come cause he’s gross.”

“Hey! Mother!” The boy looked pleading. “I can come right?”

“We’re all going,” Mother huffed, hugging them. “We—”

She went stock-still, her head snapping up, braids snapping into Alree’s face and making her squeak. Mother’s hand clapped over her mouth as she pushed them back into the corner of the little shed, watching the door again very hard.

It creaked open, but nobody was there. Alree squirmed and poked her head around Mother’s shoulder, squinting. It was dark, but she smelled something, not just Meetra.

The air shimmered and twisted a bit and then there was just a girl standing there, pulling down a big hood and getting more water all over. Alree felt her mother slump, releasing the too-tight hold on she and Meeka.

“You’re late,” hissed Mother, approaching the lady. Her face was covered by a scarf, and her big cloak and big clothes covered everything else. She looked silly, like she didn’t have hands. Her nose was odd, her hair white. A stick of some kind was on her back.

“It was difficult slipping away. Things are…busy,” the weird woman said. “Kela, I have to tell you, Estle City is under attack. We’re trying, but…”

“Lo? Tira? Anyone?” Mother asked, sounding strange again. Like when Alree and Meetra had nightmares. Scared. But Mother was Mother and she didn’t get scared.

The lady bowed her head, white hair falling over her face. “I’m sorry, Kela. I went to find them in the bakery and they…the district had already been…”

Mother made a whining sound. “I— right. Right. We need to go. We need to get out of here. The Inquis—”

“I won’t let them hurt you,” the woman said fiercely, her brown eyes flashing in the dim glow of the streetlights outside. “Come on. We just have to get to the port. I’ve already got you a spot out of the system on a ne…”

Alree stopped listening. Her fur was stuck to her all flat and cold but her skin still crawled. She turned and pulled Meetra over and held him tight to her protectively even though he smelled.

Mother went and grabbed their bag, and the lady knelt down, meeting Alree’s gaze. She gave a smile.

“Hi there. I’m Zujenia, but you may call me Zuj, Zuji, Zu or what have you. Pleasure to meet you. What’re your names?”

“I’m Alree and this is Meetra. He’s my brother.” Pausing, she added, “Little brother.”

“Big sister! That’s good. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters.”

“Why’s your nose funny?”

“It’s not funny, it’s my nose. I’m half-Ryn, half-Human.”

“What’s that?”

“Me. Now hush, and be good. We’re going on a trip, and we’re going quietly. First one to talk loses, understand?”

They nodded. Mother came back then and bustled them out back into the rain. Alree would have complained, but she didn’t want Meetra to win, so she just ran through the puddles as Mother pulled them along. Zujenia led the way. They went past apartments and big dark buildings and bright ones that hurt Alree’s eyes and ears because they were loud. She never liked them.

Soon she was tired, but Mother wouldn’t let them stop. Meetra soon lost the game by crying because his feet hurt and he wanted to go home. Alree agreed with him.

But no. They couldn’t, Mother said. There were bad strangers there.

Mother picked up Meetra and Alree was left to be slung up onto Zujenia’s back with firm instructions not to touch the stick there. She did her best, wrapping her arms around the half-Ryn’s neck.

More running. Alree didn’t like it. She was uncomfortable and Zujenia jostled her with every step and it was still raining and—

They skidded to a stop. Alree fell into a puddle. She yelped as Zujenia scooped her back up and shoved her into her mother’s arms, pushing them all behind a dumpster. That stick came off the half-Ryn’s back, and her cloak hit the ground in a soggy lump. The woman waved them back, pressing herself flat to the metal and peeking around it.

A bright red flash of light streaked past, making Alree wince. More followed, too many for her to count. Mother made a sound like whining, but Mother didn’t whine.

Zujenia hissed out a bad word and then dove into the alley when the flashes stopped. Alree darted forward, mouth dropping open and as she stared at the half-Ryn who went sprinting at three men standing further away. The ends of her stick lit up and crackled, violet-white like lightning. She spun it around her body, twisting, and hit one of the men with it in the back of his knee. He yelled and dropped to the ground, and the other end came back to crack into his head.

The other two men moved towards her, but she slithered around them, too fast for Alree to see what was happening. There were more red flashes, and Zujenia’s lightning stick slammed into one figure’s legs, sending him to his back. It came down again like a hammer on a nail. Alree gasped, watching as more people in the same funny clothes and metal hats showed up.

Claws dug into her shoulders and dragged her backwards. Alree writhed and yowled, wanting to see, but Mother crushed her firmly to her chest, tight against Meetra, hunching over them. The noises kept coming through the rain: banging and shouting and even screaming that made Alree’s skin crawl. The red lights flashed again, all around them. She could just barely make out their color from the soaked, stifling confines of her mother’s coat.

Mother slowly relaxed, her hold loosening on them. Alree wiggled free, kicking Meetra in the process, and scampered back out into the alley, panting. Her wide gaze landed on Zujenia, walking quickly back over to them. Her stick was still in one hand, dark. Her other hand pressed to her side. All the other people laid on the ground like they were napping. In the rain? People didn’t nap in the rain.

Alree ran over and kicked one in the arm. He didn’t move. She nudged him again, puzzled.

“Why—” she started to ask, but Zujenia seized her by the scruff and wordlessly carried her back to where Mother sat, depositing her there.

“Quiet,” said the half-Ryn, and Alree swallowed, nodding quickly. Mother hadn’t moved from where she laid against the dumpster. Meetra was shaking her. Crying.

Alree darted over and hit him. “Shhh! You’re supposed to be quiet!” she snapped, earning a quick, hard look from Zujenia. The woman knelt down next to Mother, speaking too softly for Alree to hear. She looked angry and sad. Mother shifted a bit finally and lifted her face, saying something back. The fur around her eyes was wet and dark, like she was crying. But Mother didn’t cry.

Mother didn’t cry.

“Thank you,” Mother coughed, and Zujenia got up and picked up Alree and Meetra under her arms with a grunt. Then she started running again.

“Wait, wait, hey!” Alree cried, kicking at the air to no effect. “Wait for Mother!”

“She’s not coming.”

“She said we all had to go. Hey!

“Quiet, Alree. Be quiet like your brother.”

“No! He smells. Mother!” she tried to yell. “Mother!”

Hissing, the Cathar girl lashed out, digging small claws into the half-Ryn’s sleeve. Zujenia didn’t stop or let go. She just grunted and kept going.

Alree whimpered. She didn’t recognize this part of the city anymore. The rain made it dark. Meetra hung limp and quiet on the half-Ryn’s other side. It was cold, and Alree was tired, and she wanted Mother.

When the girl next opened her eyes, Zujenia was setting them down, sitting them on…seats, with buckles. Alree blinked slowly as she was strapped in, like when Mother put them in the speeder. But this was different. The thing they were in was big and round except for the flat floor, with more seats and people opposite them. There were lots of crates. It smelled worse than her brother’s wet fur ever had.

Zujenia was talking to someone, a man in a brown cloak. He said, “…they’ll be safe, you have my word.”

“See to it,” the half-Ryn insisted. Alree noticed they both had smaller sticks on their belts, metal and fancy. Somebody behind a box somewhere coughed. Zujenia came back and knelt close to the Cathar pair. “Listen, you two. That man there, you see?” She pointed, which Mother said was rude, and Alree nodded. “His name is Yels. He’s a friend of sorts, and he’s going to watch out for you, okay? Make sure you get home safe.”

“But we just left home,” Alree growled frustratedly. “When’s Mother coming?”

For a second, the funny-nosed woman’s lip trembled, and then she wrapped her arms around their shoulders, squeezing tightly. She breathed hard, then said, “She’s not, little one. I’m sorry. I have to go now. You two watch out for each other.”

Zujenia let go, turning away and walking back out into the rain down a little ramp that started to rise. Alree saw her just…disappear again right there before the big door closed and blocked her sight.

Meetra sniffed and leaned into her. She almost shoved him off, but didn’t. People moved around for awhile doing things. The man Zujenia had pointed at came by and gave them a blanket and a hot drink that tasted bad.

“You’re safe now,” he said. “It’s all going to be okay. We’re going far away, whole other planets and stars away, to a secret place. Have you ever left Ol’Val?” Alree shook her head. “Where we’re going is rather different, but exciting too. The cities float. You’ll see.” The man smiled gently again and took her hand. It was soothing. “It’s going to be okay,” he repeated.

“Okay,” Alree echoed, and she believed him, even though Mother wasn’t supposed to cry.


The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System


Sepia hands slammed down on the meeting table, making the holos of the cityscape projected from its center flicker. Grim faces cast in blue stared through it, at the woman at the table’s head. Some from the usual assembly were missing, busy elsewhere in handling troop movements or coordinating counterstrikes, search and rescue, fire containment and ten other things. Some were not so lucky.

Terran resisted the urge to massage his forehead or otherwise roll his eyes. For one, the pressure building between his eyes hurt like a rancor, and he wasn’t so inclined to put the effort into the expression of exasperation. For another, he had an image to maintain.

“…Koul!” The whipcrack of his name, like wind over water, summoned his attention back to the conversation he’d begun to drown out. The Consul, having finished ordering off the others, stared straight at him. Or would have, were she able. He got the distinct impression, as ever, that somehow there were eyes under that ridiculous candy-printed cloth, boring holes into him. “What is Shadow Gate’s status?”

“I sent them out already, my Lady,” the Kiffar replied smoothly, his face an easy mask of seriousness he deemed appropriate to the situation. “They’ve paired off, four teams fanning out through the city at last-known locations of the enemy combatants.”

“And my apprentice?” demanded the Miraluka for what seemed like the fifth time that day. Terran’s head throbbed harder, and he bit back his irritation. Miss Sunshine Giggles had gotten grimmer and grimmer since the attacks had started and the vague casualty reports began rolling in. At this point, she was downright insufferable. To make matters worse, his Battleteam Sergeant was missing. He’d sent her back to Ol’Val to stir up their contacts and make certain none of this Teroch kid’s people were sticking their noses where they didn’t belong. It was simple recon on their home turf, and she’d been due to report back nearly sixteen hours ago.

He was not getting paid enough for this kark.

“I’m…investigating it, my Lady. I’ll have her back as soon as possible.”

“See to it, Koul,” she snapped, lifting one hand to wave him off as her other fluttered over the panels on the table, plunging the display, and the room, into darkness. “And while you’re finding her, perhaps you can find something more than the same platitudes you gave me four hours ago.”

With that, the Consul stalked to the door in a rustle of fabric, her footsteps swift and harsh like the grating thud of blood in his ears. The doorway swished open with a bright knife of light from the hallways, then closed again, leaving the freshly-minted Quaestor in the black once more.


“Not getting paid enough at all,” he muttered to himself, standing from his seat with a stretch and a groan. His neck was stiff. He’d been holding too still in the same ‘of course I’m paying attention’ position for too long. “Issh was right. Too much kriffing ideology and too many pieces. Never makes for a clean job.”

The Kiffar slammed his boot toes against a chair leg on his way to the door, taking his aggravation out on the furnishings. When that girl turned up, there would be words.

Terran stepped out into the hall, his left foot mid-step, when klaxons shouted in his mind and he turned the motion into a swift pivot, hands dropping reflexively to the pistols holstered there.

He turned just in time to meet a pair of wide, red-tinged amber eyes and watch, as if in slow motion, as a small, heavily cloaked figure barreled right into him. They hit the floor in a tangle of limbs and muttered curses, rubbing ringing heads as teeth vibrated in their sockets from the collision. The Quaestor extricated himself and stood, brushing off his coat, gaze landing on Zujenia herself, still on the ground. She looked like a half-drowned rat, with bloodstains on her dark clothing and the shadows on her face that told the story of crying women across the galaxy. It was obvious she’d been through one hell of something in her missing hours.

Too bad he didn’t give a damn. At least, that’s what he tried to tell himself.

Terran folded arms across chest. When he spoke, the impatience in his voice couldn’t quite hide the rural drawl.

“You’re late. Start talking.”


This Plot Update sponsored by Braecen Corp. - Your best source for quality business fulfillment needs this side of the Unknown Regions!

The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

The alert chirped three times. Deet-deet-deet. It drew Braecen’s eyes from his datapad towards the device. He grumbled something unintelligible about how it kept him from his work. Sprawled across his ornate desk in his office were numerous reports that detailed the destruction of Dajorra over the past several days. The one that remained open, at the center of his desk, was a detailed debriefing about Teroch’s attack on Wuntila. He rewound the holovideo from aboard the vessel once more, watching the pair as they exchanged blows before a nearly fatal, final blow from the rogue Adept. The old man grunted. He knew the pain from such an attack.

Casually, he paused the video, then turned his attention to his comlink nearby. It flashed repeatedly – the amber light pulsing throughout the dreariness of his office. Upon seizing control of the Dajorra Defense Force, Braecen had begun coding messages in pings and chirps to prioritize the level of communication. Frustrated that it had not reduced his workload, he had created color coded alerts to categorize the type of communication. As the amber hue diminished in his palm, he prepared himself for communication from the Dajorra Intelligence Agency; specifically, he prepared himself for communication from the Director.

“Timeros,” Braecen cooed, “my old friend.” The pair had once been bitter rivals in Braecen’s youth. A time where he had been more preoccupied with standing on his soapbox waxing about righteousness. Meanwhile, Timeros had been laying a foundation — solid brick and mortar — in Arcona to overthrow Taldryan and claim the title of First Clan. The Corellian knew better than to underestimate this particular Arconae. Better to have him as a friend than a foe, Braecen concluded.

“No time for pleasantries, Kaeth,” his peer Elder grumbled. “I have important information concerning Teroch. There is a pattern to his attacks…”

Braecen listened intently as Timeros explained the rotation.

Agavae-class Picket Ship Nighthawk
Selen, Dajorra System

The words came through strained, yet clear, as the Intelligence Officer hacked the secure link from the Director to the Quaestor of Galeres. Rulvak hated what he was doing, but he felt it was necessary as an Officer and a leader within Arcona. Before her departure, Arcia Cortel had confided in the young upstart Sith her suspicions that Braecen was a traitor. That he had purposely sabotaged SCEPTER, then Arcona, against the Perdition forces.

“There is a pattern to his attacks in our system. I’m not sure if you were read-in on Teroch’s file, but he had a very high IQ—”

“Not as high as yours?” Braecen inquired.

“No,” Timeros quieted, “not as high as mine, but enough that it makes him decidedly dangerous.” The Entar Elder paused, collected himself, and continued. “I plotted the attack locations, but that did not reveal anything until I also noted the time of the attacks, too.”

The data spooled out an equation that was too complicated for the Officers aboard the Nighthawk to understand. As the information began to slow, an image jumped to life that represented the Dajorra System with red, pulsing lights to indicate locations of known incursions. The attacks had been brutal. Teroch had been privy to access levels, as a member of the Erinos Clan, that gave him a decided advantage. No one had bothered to update or change the protocols since the Dark Crusade. Rulvak made a mental note to address the matter personally at the conclusion of this conflict.

“When I started connecting the seemingly random attacks with a single line…” Timeros trailed off. “As you can see, it provided nothing. When I introduced nearly alternating lines or, rather, two teams, a pattern began to emerge.” Two spirals — one in white, one in green — showed a circular rotation. One rotation seemed to be working inwards towards Selen, while the other rotation worked outward towards military outposts.

Braecen’s eyes widened. “Does this mean—”

“Yes,” Timeros concluded darkly. “He is heading to Dusk Station.”

The revelation confused the Captain of the Nighthawk. “Pull up everything we have on the Cardan-V space station and send it to my personal holopad.” His crew processed the task immediately and information began downloading onto his device. The Equite consumed the words with a terrifying ferocity, but he simply could not find anything of note aboard the space station to cause such fear in two Elders of the Clan.

Rulvak turned to his helmsman, Karth Orsai, and issued his orders, “Remain cloaked, but I want all ahead to Dusk Station. We continue our pursuit of Kaeth until we know his intentions clearly.”

“Aye, aye, Captain Qurroc,” Karth barked as he turned to the task before him.

Dusk Station
Selen, Dajorra System

The Lambda-class T-4a shuttle set down on Dusk Station with one metallic thud as the repulsors whined against the exertion. At the rear of the vessel, the ramp begun to lower and several individuals exited in unison. At the forefront, her white braid over her left shoulder, marched the Shadow Lady. Atyiru commanded nothing short of absolute loyalty from her Elders.

She had built her empire on their backs. Some had been cajoled, others bribed, but otherwise they had all become hostage to her charisma and her hold on the Clan. To defy her meant certain death from the other Elders, to follow her agenda granted a moment of peace and protection – it was a prison of wills. None greater, none stronger, than the Shadow Lady’s though.

At her flanks came Timeros and Marick — her most loyal Lieutenants. Behind them trailed Braecen and Valhavoc. It was a deliberate move; two from Qel-Droma, two from Galeres. Two she trusted wholly, two she needed to know if she could trust. She had her suspicions about both Braecen and Valhavoc.

Timeros had assured her that he would report anything to her immediately, but the Galeres
Quaestor had become wily with time in service, his reports less frequent, his trips not fully documented or logged by Officers aboard the Darkest Night. Officers whom were supposed to be loyal to her first and foremost. Valhavoc had served at the side of the Grand Master for well over a year. She suspected his motives for joining Arcona were false and at the request of the Iron Throne. Why else would anyone leave the comforts of the Office of the FIST to become a lowly member of a Clan?

She could not see, but she sensed a more pressing issue as she neared the doors to the inner workings of the facility. As the Lady of the Dajorra System, she should have been received by the station’s Officers with a small parade of troops. Their absence concerned her deeply. She flicked her wrist forward, “Braecen. Valhavoc.” The pair tensed and awaited orders. “Breach these doors and clear a path to the Code White vault.”

The pair darted forward. A pair of white flames erupted from the hilts in Braecen’s hands while an E-11 carbine materialized in Valhavoc’s hands. The Quaestor punched a secure sequence into the doors, but an error message beeped and a red light flashed. Timeros raised his hands and plied his fingers, blowing the doors inward with the power of the Dark Side. Silently, the lead pair entered into the darkness and darted forward.

Atyiru marched deliberately forward, every step measured and calm. The Force wrapped her in a cocoon and cautioned her against rash actions. While she desperately wanted to charge forward, the Light Side of the Force urged against such reckless action. She would arrive exactly when she needed. No sooner. No later. Her loyal Champions stayed by her side. Neither questioned her actions or her motives.

White Level, Dusk Station
Selen, Dajorra System

Valhavoc’s carbine was leveled towards the darkly clad invaders. He pulled the trigger continuously and crimson bolts raced out from the barrel to find their marks. The Eminent dutifully pushed forward from the right flank of the Sith Elder before him. He matched the Juggernaut step for step as the pair began to ingress the defenses of Teroch’s forces.

Braecen’s twin blades created fans of white, brilliant light that intercepted numerous bolts hailing at them from all directions. He could not exert enough will to redirect each bolt, instead sending them off in numerous directions. The Force directed his hands, though, keeping the pair safe as they worked towards cover. The Mercenary rolled in a quick somersault from the Sith’s right to his left, taking cover from the barrage that met them. Braecen heavily crashed into the large containers beside his fellow Elder of the Iron Throne.

“They seem agitated,” Braecen laughed. “I don’t think they like us.”

“We have to clear the path quicker, Kaeth,” the cold tone of Valhavoc dowsing the joyful light in Braecen’s eyes.

“Alright, then,” the Sith barked. “Behind me.”

The pair emerged from cover. Braecen sped forward as both blades whirled in sequence. He cut through several of the invaders before they could react to the all-out attack. Kaeth drew up short at an intersection and locked his feet to the ground. From here he would rather die than give an inch. Valhavoc slid into position at his side. He barked an order and the Sith instinctively obeyed by creating a barrier before them to repel blaster fire. Two grenades were released from his hands. They beeped madly as they tumbled through the air and landed beside their foes.

An explosion rocked the landscape and tossed both friend and foe violently against bulkheads and hallways. An eerie quiet settled into the passage as the trio of Atyiru, Marick, and Timeros marched over the corpses — and, with regretful determination, their wounded allies — towards the vault of Mejas Doto.

Through the Force, Atyiru could sense the insanity pouring outward from the Dark Jedi Master of Clan Arcona. She could also sense a more familiar presence: Teroch. She reached for the beautiful, ornate hilt at her waist. Beside her, the Combat Master and a Combat Master Emeritus mirrored her, moving for their weapons.

The battle for Dusk Station was about to begin.


This Plot Update is brought to you by Zakath - a quality lizard you can trust.

DIA Safehouse
Eldar, Dajorra System

The smell of rapidly decaying flesh and acrid smoke hung in the hot, dank air.

With each step he took into the pockmarked warehouse, Zakath could feel his smoldering fury stoking to an inferno. With each step he took, he passed another body. His wrathful eyes blazed like hot purple coals, and his talons clenched into tight fists as he set foot in the main cargo area of the building where members of the Tal’mahe’Ra and DIA agents were sorting out the grisly scene in the dead center of the room.

There was a pile of bodies in various, crooked positions on the floor, all of them with blackened gaping holes in their chests, clear evidence of blaster fire. He mentally noted the fact that most of the corpses belonged to what were being considered ‘Undesirable’ species by the Iron Throne.

They were too late.


The Barabel let a low growl escape his throat as he stared down at the twisted carcasses, barely registering that someone had come up beside him and was trying to hand him a datapad. After a long minute, Zakath wheezed out a hiss and turned to face whoever was brave enough to disturb him.

Tamashi Adaephon Delat stood there, his features hidden behind his ebony mask. Zakath accepted the datapad but did not look at it yet, instead sparing another glance at the rotting bodies on the floor.

“How many?” he asked at last.

“We counted twenty-one bodies total: nineteen of the people under our protection, and two Iron Legion troopers,” Tamashi replied, his voice hollow from the mask. “There were ten survivors who escaped thanks to the intervention of a Jedi Knight who stayed behind.”

“Speciez?” Zakath asked curiously.


Zakath’s eyes narrowed at Tamashi’s reply. He had not seen an Omwati body on his way in. Taking another harder look at the pile of corpses, he could not see any evidence of an Omwati within it.

“Where is the body?” Zakath hissed out.

“There is no body,” Tamashi replied flatly.

“Waz he taken alive?” Zakath asked, his voice a low snarl. “If he waz taken alive—”

“No,” Tamashi raised a hand. “The DIA has recovered footage from our security feeds, and it shows an unidentified Inquisitor killing the Omwati. However, the footage also showed Iron Legion troopers taking the body with them when they withdrew.”

Zakath’s eyes glowed brighter as he stared hard at Tamashi. After a moment, he switched the topic.

“How many safehouzez did we have on Eldar?”

“Seven,” Tamashi replied.

“And how many were hit?”

“Seven,” Tamashi repeated.

All seven were hit?” Zakath hissed out, his voice a low and dangerous tone.

“Yes. The DIA is still compiling its analysis, but…” The Sephi’s voice trailed off.

“Not even the Inquizitoriuz has such a powerful intelligence network,” Zakath finished Tamashi’s sentence. “We have traitorz among uz.”

“That is my thought,” Tamashi agreed with a slight nod. “I’m receiving reports from the Nighthawk as well. Not enough to get the full picture, but it looks like they’re getting bad intelligence on their end as well, bad intelligence that got one of the crew killed on his last operation. I think this rot goes much further than we originally suspected.”

“The Iron Throne iz playing gamez with uz,” Zakath growled out. “Teroch waz nothing more than a diztraction. Thiz waz their real mezzage.”

“Yes, and unfortunately Teroch’s…distraction delayed us long enough for the message to be made loud and clear.”

“No more,” Zakath said softly.

“Zakath?” Tamashi’s voice was uncertain.

“No. More,” the Barabel repeated before focusing his glowing eyes on Tamashi’s mask. “The Proconzul iz making changez. I am being elevated to hiz side to azzizt in the inveztigation of thiz traitoriuz rot.”

“I see. And the Tal’mahe’Ra?”

“Will be in your handz.” Zakath’s lips curved up into the first smile he’d had all day. “My new pozition will enzure that more rezourcez will be made available to you. We have laid the foundation, but you, Tamazhi, you will sharpen the Tal’mahe’Ra into an order that the Inquizitoriuz will learn to fear. And when the time comez…we will plunge it into their beating heartz and rip out their throatz.” Zakath’s eyes turned again toward the pile of corpses. His eyes shone with the Dark Side, and his words held hate. “The Inquizitoriuz thinkz thiz…dizplay will cauze uz to fear the Iron Throne. But all thiz doez iz make uz angry. And when our rage reachez a fever pitch, we will make the Inquizitoriuz drown in their own blood.”


Brought to you by Sashar. No, not that one. The other one. No, the other other one.

The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

Sashar stared out from the balcony backing the throne room. It was a beautifully majestic view. Twilight had just slipped past the horizon, and the long shadows had stretched inexorably away to give way to the diffuse grey of the evening. In the distance, the mountains took on an almost purple hue, and the sweeping expanse of fields between the city and the steppes blotted a patchwork of blue and green. The muted spectrum mirrored the eviscerating emptiness Sashar felt as he leant against the thick stone railing, his back to the throne that was no longer his.

A week ago, he’d been a father of four. A week ago, he’d had purpose. He’d had a reason to fight. Now, all he had were reasons not to. A deep, feral part of him wanted to hurt something. It had gripped at him like an addiction, always simmering away behind his iron-clad control. It promised a release more profound and cathartic than anything rational could possibly deliver. Of course, the rational part of his mind — his waking mind — urged caution. He hadn’t yet decided who to listen to.

He hadn’t slept in days. He’d felt them go through the Force. Each of them had been like a blaster bolt to the gut. Boiling hot pain turning his insides into a conflagration of torment and inconsolable rage. It was the closest he’d ever come to the Dark Side. Not even when he’d delved deep, masquerading as Mejas’ sycophant in order to take the madman down, had he truly abandoned everything. There was always a small, defiant part of him he’d kept sequestered away, retaining some distant, numb sense of self. No, when he’d felt Trikar’s life leave him, he’d abandoned reason and gone hunting. Hunting to kill his flesh and blood.

The worst part was that he’d even failed in that endeavour. An all-consuming bloodlust had risen within him to kill his own son, and he’d missed his chance. Or perhaps he’d wanted to and knew he’d be unable to end his last child’s life. If so, he was a coward as well as a failed father.

Should’ve stayed dead, Sashar thought bitterly to himself.

Something shifted inside him. There was literally nothing left to lose. He’d already died once. It wasn’t that bad. Afterwards, he’d be at peace.

He prowled the corridors of the Citadel like a wraith. No armor adorned him; he wouldn’t need it. It would only stave off the inevitable end. Just ahead, a mere hundred feet or so, was his deader. Not a target, not a victim, no, none of these would do. The Juggernaut was dead, he just didn’t know it yet. Teroch Erinos had cost his father his other three children, but he was still Sashar’s son. He would always have been. He didn’t comprehend it fully, but a visceral, gut-wrenchingly fundamental part of the Arconae knew that he needed to avenge Teroch’s death.

It wouldn’t matter if it was a quick death for the Krath or a slow one. Sashar didn’t care. He’d stab him in the back or beat him about the face with a ferrocrete rock if that was what the job required. There was no plan; no forward thinking, just a base indomitable rage that needed feeding, or it’d consume him.

He spotted the Adept and his pulse sang with anticipation. A sweat formed on his brow, and his knuckles tightened, pushing the blood from them. Sashar didn’t bother with a weapon; he picked up his pace, moving silently, an icy inexorable advance of an avalanche. His focus blotted out everything but his target’s back, unaware of death-made-true, mere paces away. His vision stretched out like a tunnel, almost as if he were losing consciousness.

Sashar’s hand went to his lightsaber, and he unclipped the weapon with a spastic jerk. His thumb pressed against the ignition—

A strong hand gripped his arm and whirled him about. His eyes wide and crazed, Sashar exploded in the Force, letting two lifetimes of power and experience and rage boil straight to the surface. His lightsaber blazed to life like a pale blue sun and he swung at his antagonist.

Celahir Erinos easily moved backwards, drawing his own weapon, but it was Rayze Erinos, the larger of the two, who caught the blow, his expression one of regret.

Braecen turned about, seeming startled, but Celahir speared him with a look. “Family business. Go.”

His warning was well heeded, and the Quaestor turned and hurried away. Whatever was about to happen was going to be messy, and definitely something worth steering well clear of.

“Gar shab’ika!” Sashar hissed, forcing Rayze away.

“Don’t do this, Sash,” he intoned, his voice heavy with pity. It was like a slap to the face. The Force flared into a supernova and he lashed out with his saber, Rayze barely able to batter the wild swing away. Celahir moved like a vornskr, ducking under both blades, and tackled Sashar to the floor. Before the Elder could shove him off, Rayze was there, pinning his saber-hand to the ground, letting the short teal blade burn into the stone, filling the corridor with acrid smoke. The pilot twisted, broke his uncle’s wrist, and Sashar shouted more from frustration than pain as his hand let go of the weapon. Swiftly, the pair pinned him to the ground, weathering his agony and wrath like a rock in a stormy sea. His impotent screams filled the dark, foggy scene, and they did not abate for a while.


Unknown Location
Unknown System

The room was silent, save for the methodical respiration of the transparisteel lung. Even the vital monitors, their red and blue lights casting variegated smears across the brushed metal finish of the equipment, had been long since silenced. The chamber’s recycled air felt stale and heavy in the Muun’s nostrils, and he tried not to empathize with the broken and battered Kiffar in the hermetically sealed pod in front of him. His gray eyes darted instinctively to the pod’s console, but he forced himself to look away from the red cutoff switch. The time will come… Or it won’t. It will. Or it won’t. Not my business.

Lorden’s gaze returned to the pod, the metronomic rhythm grating on his nerves. Time. Time. Always time. But never mine. No. Always that insufferable Mr. Blue. What makes him so— The rant cut off as he realized his eyes had cut back to the console, and he swallowed the anticipatory saliva that had begun to pool on his tongue. The foolhardy clone would live. For now. Their mutual benefactor had made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he alone would decide to if and when to pull the Erinos’ plug. Because his plan went so smoothly this time…

The door behind him whisked open, and the Muun suppressed the urge to jump, or even turn. Can’t let them see you nervous.

“Mr. Gray.” The same rigid, cultured formality. Silk over durasteel. It sent a shiver down Lorden’s spine, but he turned casually toward it.

“Mr. Blue.” He bit off the ridiculous moniker, forcing himself to meet the hooded figure’s crimson stare. The Muun inclined his elongated head slightly, suppressing the urge to tear apart the hood and sink his teeth into the pompous windbag’s jugular. Can’t maim the boss. Not yet. Even if his did botch this up.

“How fares our patient? I assume the extraction was successful?”

“It was, sir. Our men rendezvoused with the station and their security codes were good. They dropped off our cadaver at the Citadel and brought the would-be parricide to us. He’s been unresponsive since his arrival but…well, that’s to be expected.”

“How disheartening that they didn’t spot the fake.” Mr. Blue’s voice sounded genuinely disappointed, like a father whose son had failed to live up to expectations. After a moment, he shrugged and gestured to the pod - and the form within. “I suppose that’s to be expected, though, short of a DNA test.”

“Though we’re still sketchy on the details, it appears that the young Erinos was exposed to vacuum for a number of seconds following his battle with the Arconans, before his body could be retrieved.” The Muun’s eyes shifted again, following Mr. Blue’s to the pod. The once-comely clone showed signs of severe ebullism. The entire surface of his skin was a mottled black and blue, his lower limbs were necrotic, and most of the cells in his eyes, mouth and fingers had boiled and burst. He was little more than a slab of meat. Lorden’s gaze wandered back to the monitors. A slab of meat with brain activity. “The medical equipment has kept him stable thus far, and he appears to be comatose, rather than brain dead.” The unspoken question hung pregnant in the chamber’s stale air.

After a few moments, the hooded figure turned back to the Muun. When he spoke, his voice was slow, methodical and dispassionate. “We could replace the damaged limbs and organs with cybernetics, circulate bacta through his body to repair the cellular damage. With time, effort and money he would live.” The briefest of pauses filled the medical suite. “But that would be a waste. The brat couldn’t even follow orders. He was supposed to assassinate Arcona’s military leadership, and instead he waged a private war against his own family. Idiot.” As he spoke, Mr. Blue strode to the transparisteel lung’s command console. “Besides,” he chuckled, black-gloved finger pressing the red cutoff switch without hesitation, “we’ve seen how well that turned out. I’m not inclined to better acquaint myself with a Death Star’s reactor.”

The soft, sibilant sigh of the pod grew quiet, and the monitor’s lights grew as black as Teroch’s legs. The crimson-eyed figure spun on his heel and the medical suite’s door whisked open at his approach. “Come. This debacle has set us back. We have much to do if we’re to stick to our schedule.”

Lorden clenched his jaw at the melodramatics and fell into step behind the black-cloaked figure. “Yes, sir.”

“Besides, you never want to keep a hungry Hutt waiting.”


Plaintext Version


From the sightless wonder who still sees all…

Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

“Everlily Pele, come down here this instant!”

A tangle of long, messy wheat-blonde hair poked itself over the lip of a tiled roof. Below, an angry, upturned face stared back, making the girl duck back instinctively. She peeked forward again not a second later, feeling the giddy way her stomach dropped into her toes and flip-flopped back up as she leaned on the edges of the shingles that skimmed open air.

“I’m playing!” shouted down the child, pushing a thick lock of hair out of her mouth. It slapped against her ear, damp with spit.

“You know you’re not allowed up on the roof! Get down, Everlily, now.”

“Daddy says I can!”

“Your father takes you up with him. You’re not allowed up there on your own.”

“He said I could by myself before work!”

“Is that so? Then he can say as much when he gets home. Don’t make me tell you again, Everlily. Down, now.”

“Mooooooom, c’mon! M’not gonna fall. I’m playin’!”

Down, Everlily. I want you inside and washing up in two minutes or you’ll be grounded for a month.”

“Mom, noooo.”

“I’m waiting.”

Grumbling to herself, the young girl scrabbled away from the roof’s edge and back across the tiles that scraped rough and warm and nice under her bare feet and on her palms. She stood up when she reached the slightly peaked top, feeling her guts go down and up at the same time. The wind grabbed at her arms and legs and hair, and she stared out over the city below, feeling big and tall and forever.

It was the best up here. She could see everything and everybody: the people looking funny, the ten-hundred colors of the roofs and streets, the roads and speeder lanes. If she stood on her tiptoes she could see the market Mom took them to, over the edge of one of the apartment buildings whose fence she liked to climb. She could even see where her dad worked.

Ever turned around. She didn’t have to look up to see it — she never did. The Citadel. Mom liked it a lot. She said it wasn’t a castle, but it looked like a castle to Ever. Mom always said, “‘the Citadel will protect us.’” That was great and all, but it had to be way cooler than that to be a castle. The people that were in charge of the world were there, they had to be.

Sometimes she liked them and sometimes she didn’t. She liked them the days school was cancelled and when it didn’t rain and when Daddy came home early. She didn’t like them when it got all cold because she hated the cold and she wasn’t allowed on the roof at all if it was snowy or when she had homework and those were times when the Citadel was stupid, not protectful.

Ever knew what she’d do if she was in charge of the world. If she was in charge, she’d cancel mornings, and school all week, and the dentist, and bedtimes and not being allowed on the roof without Daddy. There’d be less bugs, more chocolate and all the apples, and Lea wouldn’t get to be faster than her when they were playing huttball. If she was in charge of the world, there wouldn’t be vegetables or “wake up early” or even such a thing as “early" because early was stupid. Everybody could just wake up whenever they wanted instead. And they’d all have speeders too. All the kids. She’d have like…fifty.

“ONE MINUTE, EVERLILY!” Mom yelled, making her flinch, and she frowned down at the ground.

“I’m gonna be in charge and then I’ll have all the minutes,” she mumbled as she went to the back of the house and climbed down the ladder wedged there against its metal side. Daddy didn’t like her going up or down when he wasn’t holding it, but she could do it by herself just fine.

Her mother was waiting with her arms crossed and foot tapping when she got to the bottom, pointing her inside. Ever made a face.

“Get cleaned up, Everlily. I want you at the table when I get back in.”

“Lea’s not at the table.”

“Your brother will be, now go on.”

Huffing, the girl stomped a bit as she went in their back door but did it anyway, passing through the kitchen, past the dining table and into the living room and through her parent’s room to the bathroom. She looked over her shoulder, then turned the water on for a few seconds, waiting, before turning it off and running back out—

“Oomph! Ever! Geez, watch it!” snapped her brother, rubbing at his legs while she cupped her face, her nose stinging and head swishy. He reached down and pulled her back to her feet, swatting her hands away. “You okay, dummy?”

“I’m fiiiine, move,” replied the girl, but he just caught her by the back of her shirt, dragging her to a stop.

“Hey, punk, hold on. Did you wash off?”


“Lemme see.”

“I did!”

“C’mon, kid, you got that faucet thing from me. Spread 'em.”

Scowling, she didn’t bother to show him her dirt-covered hands, just stomping back into the bathroom while Lea watched instead. She stuck her tongue out at him in the mirror.


“Brat. You’re such a little copy-nexu. Hurry up, I’m hungry.”

The siblings went back to the table, Lea stopping to close his bedroom door on the way when she tried to look in. Mom was waiting for them, looking annoyed, and Ever sat in her chair without a word.

Her mother started grabbing spoons while Lea flopped into his own seat, and Ever looked over at her father’s spot.

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s working late. It’s very busy today.”


“Because it is, Everlily. The Citadel does lots of important work, and your father has to help them.”

“Like what?”

“Lots of things.”


“They protect us, Everlily. They give us everything. That’s what.”

Lea scoffed loudly. Ever glanced at him, frowned, then turned back to her mother. “Like what?” she repeated. “Why’s they so busy? Why’s Daddy? Is it because of all that stuff from the other day?”

She had come out of her room to find her parents and brother all crowded around the daily holo. She hadn’t been able to read the title upside down, but the big picture on the front taking up the whole page looked like one of the big kinds of ships on fire.

They wouldn’t let her look at it. Daddy had told her not to worry about it. Mom always told her not to worry about stuff. She said it a lot lately. She said it about the starfighters and ships that flew over them sometimes, she said it about the people they saw around that looked hurt or sad, she said it when the sirens went off or when she made Ever come inside early and told her to stay there, and it was nothing like when she’d made her get off the roof earlier — it was something scary and serious and when she it like that, Ever just listened.

Putting a bowl down in front of her, Mom sighed, “You don’t have to worry about it, little flower. Just remember the Citadel will protect us. Eat your dinner”

Ever glanced down and made a face. “I hate potatoed soup.”

“It’s good food, young lady, and it’s good for you. We’re blessed for every meal, so be grateful and eat up.”

“I want apples and stars,” she complained, her stomach growling and tongue dancing at the thought of her favorite pasta, shaped like small five-pointed figures.

“No Everlily. This is what we’re having for dinner.”

“Why not?”

“Because this is what I made. Besides, we’re out of apples and cheese.”

The girl’s heart sank down to the bottoms of her feet, and she crossed her arms, glaring at her bowl. Potatoes were gross.

“Bet you I can finish before you, brat,” her brother said suddenly, picking his bowl up and slurping it. Ever sat bolt upright, brows furrowing.

“No you can’t!” she cried, grabbing her own and drinking. It made her throat tighten but she did it anyway, tongue burning.

“Everlily! Sasalea! Stop it right now. Use your silverware!”

Just Lea, Mom,” her sibling groaned, setting his dish back down. Ever gasped for air and did the same, feeling gloppy liquid drip down her chin and smack onto her shirt.

Everlily. You’re making a mess. Gah, here…” Leaning over, her mother began wiping at her with a cloth. She struggled away.

“I can do it myself, stoooop,” the girl whined, grabbing her own napkin and dragging it over her face and chest. Under her mother’s glare, then, she grabbed her spoon in a fist and shoved more soup in her mouth, face screwed up as she did so. Mom went back to telling Lea he was in trouble.

After a moment, Ever realized something.

“Mom, aren’t ya gonna eat?”

“I…ate earlier, Everlily. Now shush and finish your dinner.”

The child stared at her mother, then at her brother, her bowl, and the empty chair between them all.

“Is Dad gonna be back for dinner?”

“We’ll see, dear. He’ll call when he’s on his way.”

Shoulders slumping, Ever went back to her icky soup, eyes drifting back towards the door and the communicator on the wall every few minutes. Mom and Daddy both said not to worry and just trust the Citadel. Daddy was at the Citadel. That meant he’d be okay.

He would be if she was in charge, anyway.


C-ROC Gozanti - class Cruiser Wide Berth
Dajorra System

The spectral image above the holoprojector cast a cobalt light over the outsized quarters. Though it chased away shadows, the captain’s cabin seemed drearier for the harsh, mechanical light. With an inward side, Whallata listened to the Muun drone on incessantly.

“It’s imperative that you arrive at precisely six minutes after…”

The Hutt tuned out Mr. Gray’s chattering. She had grown quite efficient at doing so over the past few months of their partnership. I’ve been running criminal organizations five times longer than you’ve been alive, conehead. Don’t lecture me. Still, the Besadeii crime boss kept her expression neutral through the speech, never betraying her true feelings towards the impudent Muun. A quiet chirp sounded from the intercom on the cabin’s wall, and the Hutt raised a short arm to silence the hologram.

“I understand. We’ll be landing in just a few minutes, and I must see to preparing the assault team. I’ll comm you as soon as we have control.”

The Muun’s blue image looked perturbed at the interruption, but he acquiesced with a quick nod of his oversized head, and the holofeed cut out just as swiftly. With a slight harumph, the yellowish-gray Hutt spun towards the double-wide door and glided through it, heading towards the transport’s cargo bay. A glance at her chrono confirmed her suspicion. No time for the creche of karuvian meal worms she had set aside to celebrate the occasion. I’ll have to remind Dralin to bring them to the command center once we’ve completed our assault. Smiling in anticipation, Whallata slithered through the cargo bay doors. They whooshed closed behind her considerable bulk, and her smile widened.

Port Ol’val
Dajorra System

There was a time when the Weequay would have scorned Whallata’s insatiable appetite. Worrying about food, when dozens of mercenaries were launching an attack on a heavily-fortified installation filled with highly trained soldiers and Force Users, not to mention the multitude of pirates, smugglers and slavers who called Ol’val home…it boggled Dralin’s mind. But the Hutt’s majordomo had long-since learned to take his mistress’s proclivities in stride. Her numerous successes more than made up for her eccentricities. Tapping out a few commands on his datapad, the erstwhile bounty hunter sent the Hutt’s orders to her porters before switching back to the pad’s interactive station map.

The screen showed a vertical map of the station on the left, and an overhead map of the selected level on the right. Bright green dots represented the soldiers and mercenaries Whallata had brought with them to retake the shadowport, while red splashes of color indicated reports of resistance. So far, they’d met little on the populated levels. That meant little, though. The Weequay knew that the station’s more dangerous denizens, those who called themselves Arconans, had numerous fallback points and safe houses from which they’d need to be rooted out.

“The assault is going more or less as anticipated, Your Rotundness. We have reports of surprising resistance in the port’s medical facilities, but minimal engagements otherwise. It seems your name still carries a great deal of weight on Ol’val.”

The Hutt shot him a long-suffering look - he knew she preferred to make the puns - before nodding her massive head. Her quivering jowls had once been off-putting, but after six years of serving as her right-hand man, Dralin barely gave them a second thought. Well, a third thought. Usually.

“And our forces on Selen?”

“Dead. All of them.”

A wide smile blossomed on the Hutt’s face and her bulbous, reptilian eyes beamed. “Excellent.”


The Q stands for Quality

The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

The sun was hardly above the horizon — an exceptional point given the Citadel’s elevation — as Qyreia stepped off of her stoop. Her lover, Keira, was off on some errand with her “Krayt Syndicate,” or whatever they were calling themselves these days, leaving the Zeltron to her lonesome. Perfect opportunity to get a workout in, she’d thought as the realization had set in. Donning a tank-top and running shorts, she set out from her apartment into the brisk morning air.

Exercise was a good sort of escapism.

I don’t do this often enough. Equally hating the sudden need for air as much as she enjoyed the scenic view, she worked her way down the winding stair toward Estle City proper, so quiet and peaceful this early in the morning. Aside from a scattered few students on the Huascar Ring, the university level was nearly devoid of life. Lower down on the Sinchi Ring, her skin prickled in the cold offered by the shade of the winding avenues. By the time she made it to the Capac Ring, Qyreia remembered that she still had the return trip to jog. As the sun rose ever higher, a fine sheen of sweat coursed over her red skin, her blue hair matting against her forehead and scalp as she jogged back up toward the Citadel, towering high above.

For a Brotherhood in such turmoil, Selen felt like an incredibly peaceful place, removed from the internal strife of her former Clan or the covert struggles of the Lotus and Odan Urr. With Keira gone, the only sounds being her breathless panting as the Zeltron reached her door, it all felt too quiet. A good quiet, but too quiet nonetheless.

“Not like few days ago, right Ms. Squishy?” she whispered, passing by Shay’lra’s crib on her way to the refresher to check on the sleeping baby. “Poor kid. I hope Kord and Zuj’re okay.”

Kordath had departed for Port Ol’val three days prior, leaving the babe to the Quaestor, who was more familiar with the Zeltron side of the child’s disposition than most babysitters. I don’t know why they fuss so much about her, Qyreia thought as she hopped into the shower. She’s hardly a handful with me. Perhaps it was because she knew how to handle the pheromones and emotional telepathy intrinsic to Zeltron biology, but the difficulties that had plagued the Ryn couple prior to consulting the mercenary never arose in the few times she had seen to the kid herself. The thoughts made Qyreia wonder what it would be like to be a parent and have kids of her own.

“I can’t even imagine it,” she chuckled as the steaming water cascaded over her.

It wasn’t until she had dried and was halfway through dressing that the Ryntron finally stirred with a whine. Welp, looks like the reprieve is over. Buttoning her shirt, the merc slipped into the living room and picked up the baby, bouncing gently and cooing to her.

“Heeey Shay. G’morning you little rascal.” She poked the little one’s forehead with her nose, eliciting a delighted giggle. “That’s a good girl. How’s breakfast sound, hm?”

While the baby gurgled contentedly, Qyreia moved to the kitchen and prepped the milk bottle, humming a soft melody while the pair waited. Shay still enjoyed playing the Zeltron games, even if she didn’t know she was doing it, and even as the chime went off to say the milk was ready, the merc could feel the difference in the air.

“Eat up, kiddo,” she said, popping the bottle into the expectant red hands before putting her gently back into the crib. “I’m gonna finish getting ready, then what’s say you come to work with me?” The baby sneezed such that it almost sounded like a scoff. “I know, I don’t want to go to work either.”

After forcing down a quick, light meal, she finished putting her attire together. With the baby cradled in her arms and seemingly enjoying the soft leather of the merc’s jacket, they left the little apartment, not noticing the pulsing glow from her computer terminal. By now the morning rush was in full swing, with military and other assorted Clan personnel shifting one way or another through the halls. Business as usual, if looking significantly more hectic.

Not that things hadn’t come quietly once Qyreia had taken up the mantle of Quaestor. Battleteam Tal’mahe’Ra had been merged with Nighthawk to streamline operational logistics, while she and other Galerian staff had started to pick away at the backlog of work; slowly but surely. A few key suggestions to the higher Summit had put the idea in their heads to establish a permanent military post on Selen which Galeres could use as a base of operations, given their militant role and current lack of a home.

The destruction of the fleet was a sore spot that was still making it difficult to sleep.

“Call Atyiru,” she said to the voice recognition software that was always running on her desk interface. A few chimes rang quietly as she took a seat, Shay pawing at her chin, before the image of the Consul appeared. “Mornin’ Atty.”

“Qyreia, where have you been?! I’ve tried calling you three times already!”

“I went for a run this morning, showered, and now I’m in the office with Shay. Why? Something else happen?” Largely used to her eccentric side, the Zeltron still couldn’t quite comprehend the worrisome tone in the Consul’s voice.

She could hear the Miraluka sigh heavily on the other end. “We need to work on our recovery efforts for the fleet. Do you know where Bleu is?”

“I’m just babysitting Shay’lra. He didn’t give me any specifics.”

“Probably off to check in on Zujenia then. Keep me appraised, and be ready. Things just became far more complicated. I’ll be by in a couple hours to go over this new business.”

“Alright Atty. I’ll… see what I can do here in the meantime.” She closed the channel and sat back in her chair, bouncing the Rynlette in her arms and unsure how to process everything. Part of her knew that at least some of those ships had been, at least in the paperwork, under her oversight, and a lot of people within her command were probably dead now. Even five days after the fact, she had just barely managed to keep herself together. Looking at Shay, oblivious in her arms, only complicated her emotions. “It’s okay kid,” she said reassuringly, though the target clearly wasn’t the baby, “we’ll sort out this mess, your dad’ll come back, and everything’ll be alright again.”

Feeling the adult Zeltron’s dismay, Shay started to cry. So did the Quaestor.


And now: a special message from your local neighborhood unicorn…if you live in Canada.

Port Ol’val
Dajorra System

The Phantom Complex had grown eerily quiet over the last few weeks, the whirling chaos and frantic excitement of glitter-bombs and purple graffiti had become nothing more than mere memory. The brown stains of blood and paint had long since been scrubbed clean and a sort of monotonous routine had replaced them. Many of the civilian workers were grateful of the new, and yet familiar, setting; a sense of safety had been brought in by the Aedile’s replacement.

The hallways of Alpha level echoed with the softly padded footsteps of civilian staff, monotonously tending to their duties and wordlessly going about their daily tasks. A floor down, the atmosphere drastically changed. Beta level seemed to be clenching to a strange aura of anxiousness, wrapping it’s claws around any sudden noise and making more skittish people flinch. No one seemed to know what was going to happen, but there seemed to be a sense of impending danger that permeated the air.

Inside the office of Terran Koul, two men spoke in hushed tones while sitting on either side of a large metal desk. The Quaestor sat with his feet up on his desk, ankles crossed while the smaller man seemed to be nervously shifting in his seat. Kordath Bleu, the recently appointed Aedile of Galeres, thumbed the flask in his pocket as the Kiffar’s dark azure gaze locked on him, waiting for an answer.

“She’s nae so moody as th’ Purple Lady,” Kordath paused, his low voice thinning into a whisper as he flicked his tail, “but somethin’ ‘bout th’ other one. Ain’t right.”

Terran Koul hid a smirk behind his hand as he appeared to rub his nose with a knuckle. “What makes you say that? She’s efficient at her job and hasn’t done a thing we can find to warrant any suspicion, so far.”

“So far…Dunno, just somethin’ ‘bout the way the staff seems to,” the Ryn shrugged, making grunting noise as he shook his head. Terran raised an eyebrow in response, waiting for the Galaren Aedile to finish.

“I dunno!” Kordath finally grumbled. “Act like flower petals fall out her pink arse.”

The Quaestor laughed, lifting his feet off the desk and sitting up straighter in his chair. As he leaned forward, the smile disappearing from his face. Terran gave Kordath a level gaze.

“Do you trust her with Zujenia’s safety?”

Kark, Terran.” Kordath scoffed, his tail flipping anxiously. “I trust Zuji t’ take care of ‘erself. Even in the medbay. She’s gotta good guard on ‘er. B’sides, yer gonna keep eyes on ‘er while I’m gone.”

“Alright, well I—” The Quaestor was suddenly interrupted by the distant sound of an explosion and an abrupt shift in lighting. A moment later, alarms were blaring and the emergency lights of the Phantom Complex came on.

“What the kark?” Terran barked, scanning his datapad as Kordath did the same. A buzz from the office door came and the Quaestor leapt to his feet, moving quickly to press the comm.

“What’s going on?” Terran shouted as he door slid open. Aedile Maenaki Dalevi’in stood in the entrance with a perplexed look on her face.

“My Lord, we appear to be under attack.”


From our newest Arconae - because her name wasn’t long enough already.

The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

I’ll remember you. I remember everyone that leaves.

Her steady surgeon’s fingers didn’t tremble over the keys of her datapad anymore. Once, but no more. She swallowed, not past any lump in her throat but past the slightest creak of her jaw, the press of her lips. It was there, underneath but distant. A wobbling lip. Air absent from lungs. Her skin crawled and she had the vaguest sensation that if she never moved again, it might feel better. Along with that was a paradoxical restlessness, a barely-there twitch to her hands, the muscles in her thighs. They contracted in tiny, random spasms.

Just there, on the edge, below the surface. She could feel it — yet couldn’t. Like a numbed limb, attached but phantom.

If she looked too long, she would see it. If she stopped, she would feel it. If she did anything to so much as clench her jaw or sob freely, she would crack down her center and spill out all over her furniture, guts, bile, and sorrow.

The only thing that held her together was the way her cracked pieces leant against each other, and one breath in either direction and she would break.


Poised on that edge, she chose strength and forced herself to type. Forced herself to be something other than the construct of eggshells and glass that she had become in the brief moment that she had allowed herself to be.

She breathed in the Force and her gods and knew them to be true. Her shoulders rose, her spine straightened, her head lifted. Her people — her home — needed her.

Even if they’ll all leave me in the end.

She had always known that. Their lives were in her hands, and they were meant to be spent. Whatever took them away, it was by her word as Consul and their faith that she sent them to die.

Everybody leaves. But I’ll remember them. I’ll remember you. I remember everyone that dies for Arcona.

She finished that letter, sent it, and then began the next, and the next. And the next. Crewmen, servicemen, pilots. She buried more empty caskets. Not as many as would be expected, as was in any way logical. Why their escape pods had been left alone, no one knew. The Shadow Lady had her suspicious, of course — Marick — but there was no real time to dwell on whether the gesture had been one of mercy or menace. The message was clear enough: their fleet was gone, their people were dead, and they were all but defenseless.

Well, they would send a message all their own, just like in the courtyard. It didn’t matter what Pravus and the Iron Throne attempted — the First Clan would allow them no more. They would pick themselves up, claim their weapons, and deny him.

Atyiru Caesura Entar Arconae stood from her desk, thoughts weighted with that certainty, and rolled her shoulders. There was more to be done. The last day and a half had been nothing but meetings upon meetings with the Summit, tallies, investigations, body counts, and there was still more to be had. She needed to place calls, arrange rendezvous, supply drops. She needed to arrange for the proper accountants to be contacted, funds transferred, dispense personnel to find them a new bloody armada. And all that on top of commissioning repairs for the rest of the Capac ring’s industrial sectors that Lorden had destroyed, and all that Teroch’s mercenaries had destroyed, and to review the rationing reports and draft a proposal for troop recruiting…

Too much to be done for standing still. Pivoting on her boot’s white heel, the Miraluka strode out of her office and into the hall—

The Force whispered.

The Consul sidestepped, gloved hand shooting out to steady the man that had nearly collided with her in his haste as he stumbled. Her senses told her stories of him: not a Force-sensitive, but bright in spirit, a familiar candle. One of the Citadel workers. He was harried, worried — they all were.

She released him as he straightened up with a huff, turning to face her, and she felt shock well up in him as realization dawned. She was, really, rather recognizable.

“My…Lady,” he stammered, then drew himself together. “My Lady, I am terribly sorry—”

“You need never apologize to me, my friend. Are you well?”

“Of…of course, my Lady. I am sorry, I was just…just on my way to deliver a report to my foreman.”

“What’s your name, my dear? Where do you work?”

“Gren Pele, my Lady, engineering officer in the south tower and west and east wings.”

Atyiru smiled. “It is good to meet you, Gren Pele. Please, Atyiru is more than enough. I would chat longer, but I’ve my duties, as do you. Go safely on your way, my friend, yes?”

“Yes, my La…Lady Atyiru.”

“Hum, it will do. Ashla and Bogan bless you, my friend.”

“And you, Lady.”

The Shadow Lady resumed her stride down the hall, her pointed ears swiveling back just slightly as she listened to the man’s steps retreat. Something nagged at her. But then, an uncountable number of things did.

Her guardsmen fell into step with her as she reached the end of the hall, and they proceeded towards the throne room. She would call Bly to schedule another meeting, have him meet her there. The Miraluka lifted her comm to do just that when it chirped in her fingers, high and harsh.

Ice slithered down her spine. The Force whispered again.

“What is it?” she demanded into the device, stopping in place, feet planted like a mountain. On the other end, the familiar monotone of Rollmaster and brother answered.

“Consul,” he greeted flatly, ever proper, even in the direst of times. “There are reports of a situation on Ol’Val. We have insufficient detail; however, what little we do have at present suggests some sort of incursion. I suggest we respond, at your order.”

Atyiru inhaled. “Yes. Send—” she nearly said 'the Shadow,’ then recalled the feeling of innumerable souls vanishing into the Void, “—the Nighthawk and her crew. Immediately. I want a report from Xenna within the hour. Also contact Bly, Qyriea, and the Arconae and have them assemble in the war room. Now, Timeros.”

“It will be done, Consul.”

The line cut.

She lowered her comm. Exhaled. Spun and advanced back in the opposite direction she had come, her cloak flaring, braid trailing behind her. The guards scrambled to follow. Possibilities flashed in her mind. She wished briefly for the presence of her Proconsul, her true analyst, but shut the sentiment away. He had made his choices, as she did hers. All there was now was Arcona, and whatever tried and failed to threaten her next.

The Consul slowed her pace only marginally as she approached her much-used tactical center, lips thinning into a line. The hallway was flush with maintenance workers and construction, rebuilding a section of wall and piping that had blown out from a mercenary’s explosives nearly two months ago. She stepped past all of them, over cables and sheets, and had proceeded on when a cry went up behind her.

Atyiru paused, turned back, as did her guards. Some of the workmen gathered around one of their fellows on the floor. He made gestures as if to wave them off.

She walked back, the small, tight crowd parting around her, and offered a hand. The man took it, getting back to his feet. He wobbled slightly, and one of his coworkers reached to steady him under an arm as the Miraluka let go.

“Today does not quite seem to be your day, Gren, my friend,” the woman said, her smile practiced.

“He collapsed,” his compatriot said, even though Gren protested.

“I am fine, just a bit lightheaded.”

“You might be dehydrated or overworked, my friend. These are hard times. Do not let them overcome you.” Consul though she was, she had been a healer first. She nodded to him. “You ought to go home, rest. The lot of you. The hour is late, and you all are more important to see whole than this hallway. Go on. Dismissed.”

The lot of them paused in hesitation, but after weeks of fourteen-hour days they weren’t going to refuse her. Bowing or ducking their heads, the men and women began packing up their things, their overseer directing machinery powered down or moved aside.

There is this much, at least. And so much more yet…

Atyiru went back on her way, stepping into the war room and greeting Captain Bly as she did so. He saluted, then handed her a datapad, reciting its contents even as her fingers drifted over the raised keys. Last contact with the shadowport, sixty-seven minutes prior. Last scheduled check in before that, four hours prior. No traffic coming in or out that sensors could detect. All communications jammed…

“Make sure Nighthawk knows her first priority is situation assessment, not engagement. We can’t be blind.”

“Yes, my Lady.”

The Force told her what the data in front of her couldn’t: something terrible was happening, and before the end of it, there would be more dead to bury.


Agavae -class Picket Ship Nighthawk
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

The newly minted captain of the AVG Nighthawk, Xenna Azara, tapped a finger on the armrest of her chair as she stared out the forward viewport. They’d been previously tasked with ferrying the Aedile, Kordath, out to Ol’val to get an in-person update on the recent fleet losses, and now completed their second approach in as many days to investigate the station’s apparent silence. Her superior, such as he was, in her opinion, had seemed nervous the entire short flight. Some of her officers had informed her after he’d disembarked that the former captain hadn’t ever been comfortable flying. She had not questioned his request for a bucket and a windowless room to bunk down for the trip, simply accepting the idiosyncrasies that came with dealing with her summit.

One of her people working the sensor console glanced up from the crew pit, a look of mild confusion on his face.

“Captain, we’ve got out of lane traffic near the Port.”

“Someone new, perhaps? Finding themselves equally ignored by the dockmasters?”

“No, I mean that there are multiple vessels that aren’t where they should be, Captain.”

She peered at the tactical map as it updated, watching the ships swinging around the asteroid, their course clearly marked in red as being out of the station’s exit and approach vectors.

“That’s odd,” she began to say, before klaxons screamed across the bridge.

“They’re locking onto us, no attempts to hail!”

“Shields up! Comm Ol’val again and find out what the frak is going on!”

“Still no response from the Port, sir!”

She heard one of the officers say to another as they worked their consoles feverishly, “I always said the Ryn was bad luck.”

They may be right, she thought grimly.


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Everlily was not happy.

Basically everything sucked. Breakfast was gross and lunch was gross and now she couldn’t even go outside and Daddy was still sick and Lea was grumpy all the time and Mother kept telling her not to worry but she was worried and why couldn’t she go outside?

“I said no, Everlily.”

"Why noooooooooooootttt?" the girl demanded for the gazillionth time.

“I told you, Everlily, we just have to stay inside. Don’t wor—”

“WHY?” Ever shouted, stomping her foot. “All’s you ever do is says not to worry but why? Why’s other people allowed out there? Why can’t I go?”

“Everlily,” croaked a voice from the other room. Ever jumped in place, mouth snapping shut. “Come here, flower.” She rubbed her wet eyes and glared at her mother, then spun and darted into her parents’ bedroom, trying to slam the door behind her, but it only bounced back out of the frame with a bang.

“Don’t slam the doors, Everlily!” Mother snapped from back in the kitchen but Ever ignored her, running over to her father’s bedside. She was about to jump up, but he lifted a hand to ward her off.

“Don’t touch,” he reminded gently, and her lip wobbled, but she took a step back, looking down.

“What’s it, Daddy?” the little girl asked, flinching when her father coughed.

Daddy had never been sick before. Not that she’d seen. Whenever Ever got sick, she had to sleep on the couch, with her own sheet and pillow and bowl to throw up in. She didn’t know why Daddy didn’t have to sleep on the couch, but it didn’t seem fair. He was Daddy though, so she allowed it.

Daddy was never sick, but he’d been sick for…for forever now. Like — Ever counted on her fingers to be sure — a week. He had big spots all over him that were white and green and puffy and wet and smelled really bad, and he coughed all the time, and didn’t eat anything.

Ever and Lea ate by themselves now. Mother always ate without them these days, had always already eaten before her and Lea had to sit down for lunch or dinner, and Daddy was too sick, Mother said. It was stupid and mean and not fair. Mother usually said that it was rude to eat without everybody, said they had to wait. Ever had yelled at her for being rude yesterday and gotten sent to her room. Unfair, all of it.

“E-everl— wa, plea—” Daddy tried to say between coughs, and Ever jumped in place again, scrambling to follow where his finger pointed. She grabbed his glass of water off the nightstand and stuck it close to his face, sloshing some on him while he took a drink. She said sorry, but he just told her she did a very good job. Better than him. He couldn’t keep any water in the glass.

He was shaking too bad now anytime he tried to move.

The girl’s lip trembled again, and she hiccuped, sniffing. Tears ran down her cheeks and snot dripped on her chin.

“Everlily,” Daddy hushed once he could talk, and she pulled the cup back, clutching at it with both hands and crying. “Shhh, little flower. Are you scared?”

She nodded, hiccuping more, gasping in little breaths and exhaling blubbery whines.

“Shhh, Everlily. Listen to me. You don’t have to be scared, okay, sweetling? The Citadel will protect us, just like your mother says. You be good to her, you hear me? Be nice, listen to her. Can you do that for me?”

“Mmm-m-m-mhmmm,” managed Ever through her sobbing.

“That’s my big brave girl.” He coughed a little more, wheezing. “Don’t you worry, Everlily. The Stars have plans for all of us, you’ll see. They have one for you. Alright?”


“Good girl. Now, Daddy…Daddy’s getting sleepy again. Can you sit with me, just a bit?”

“Yeah, Daddy,” she sniffed, her cries finally slowing. The girl stuck the glass back on the little table and clambered up into the chair between it and the door. She wanted so badly just to curl up on her father’s chest and have him sing her song, even more badly than she wanted to go outside or have apples or, or anything.

But she wasn’t allowed, because Daddy was sick, even though Daddy never got sick.

Daddy stopped just coughing so much after a little bit and just started snore-coughing instead. Ever pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, burying her face there. Outside the bedroom door, she heard a bang. Voices, steps.

“Please, stay in your home after curfew,” somebody she didn’t know was saying.

Lea’s voice snapped back, “What’s this quarantine about, huh? You people can’t just lock us up in our houses! You don’t have a right. You owe us some kriffing explanation—”

"Sasalea! You watch your language and your attitude!" Mother practically shrieked. Her words got quiet again. “I’m very sorry for my son, officer, please — know we’re grateful for all you do.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just stay inside and stay safe, ma’am. Keep an eye on the general broadcast channels.”

“Of course, we will. Goodnight.”

Ever listened to the front door slide closed, listened to her brother tramping further into the house. More banging. She flinched.

“Sasalea, stop it! You’re being ridiculo…” she got too quiet to make out, “…no…w…your father sick, hardly the time….You just have to trust in the Citadel to protect us. They know what they…doing…”

Lea’s shout almost hurt her ears in comparison. "I don’t wanna hear about the stupid Citadel, Mom! Don’t you see how screwed up that is? Don’t you feel how — how wrong something is there? Look at it! Stuff happens around here and, and nobody talks about it! There’s something wrong up there and I don’t know what they’re doing but it’s not protecting us. Their soldiers wouldn’t be out there patrolling if they were helping!"

“You be quiet right this instant! You don’t know what you’re talking about. The Citadel has always helped us, always. They keep us safe and we’re lucky to be here.”

“Lucky? Tell that to dad! Tell that to Kytru now that his grandma’s dead from whatever this thing is!”

“Don’t talk like that! Not another word, Sasalea.”

“Mom, come on—”

“Not another word!”

“No! I’m not just shutting up about this because you say so, that’s not how this works! Dad’s sick, we don’t have any food — you’re not eating! I’m not Ever, mom, I’m not stupid, and you’re stupid if you’re just gonna keep trusting them without, without something. We need to know what’s going on! Breja said—”

“I don’t care what your friends say, Sasalea! You need to listen to what I say—”

“Not if what you say is sithspit!”

“I said stop that!”


Ever heard crying.

Her little blonde head snapped up and her brows furrowed and she scrambled out of her chair, jumping down and pushing the door open. Lea and Mother stood on opposite sides of the table and Mother was crying and Ever ran right up to her brother and started punching and kicking and grabbing at his legs.

“STOP IT, ST-STOP IT STOPS STOP IT DON’T MAKE HER CRY STOP MAKIN’ MOMMY CRY LEEEEA! STAAAWHP!” the girl screeched, flailing harder as her sibling stumbled back. “DON MAKES HER CWY STOPS FIGHTIN!”

“Ever, stop!”



Hands wrapped around her middle and dragged her back and she squirmed and cried and stomped, trying to bite but unable to reach. Her mother pulled her tight into her chest and hugged her and Ever nearly started screaming again because she didn’t want to hug Mommy she wanted to hug Daddy and she wanted him to be okay and to go outside and for all of them to stop fighting and and and—

“Stop, stop,” whimpered the girl as her mother started rocking gently, shaking, shakes Ever could feel too. Not shaking like Daddy but shaking bad still, like she was gonna turn into pieces on the floor. Lea said another bad word he wasn’t supposed to and stomped off, his door slamming, and Ever wanted to yell at him for slamming the door because she always got yelled at for slamming the door but she couldn’t breathe anymore and it hurt to try and when she tried her nose just bubbled and stuck up with snot…

“It’s okay, Everlily,” Mother hushed, petting her hair. “Just like your father says, just like I tell you. Don’t worry, little flower. The Citadel will protect us. Everything will be fine, you father will be fine, I promise. Shhhh…”

You don’t have to be scared, Daddy had said. She tried. She tried not to be.

She tried.


Agavae -class Picket Ship Nighthawk
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

Xenna’s first major decision as the new Captain of the Nighthawk was to abandon it.

She wondered, briefly, how the Clan’s historical records would account for her. If they would note, indeed, that however unconventional her means typically were when framed in the tiresome rigors of martial systems, that they tended to produce results on passion alone. If they would note that she did what she did intent on seeing her and as many as possible of the crew she was now responsible for alive, pride be damned. If they’d know that for all their loss, they had not been slain without a fight, not one volley of turbolaser fire taken that was not answered just as viciously, because the Nighthawk and her Arconan charges were nothing if not fighters to the last breath.

She wondered if they would note that it was their own bloody people blowing them to pieces.

Lightning quaked in the ruby-haired woman’s fingers, and she clenched her fists to tame it, eyes flashing with gold. The muscles in her legs spasmed from exertion, quivered, nearly buckled, but Darkness held her fast and strong. She took another few steps, half-dragging one of her bridge officers with her, the other woman nearly unconscious as they went along through the flaming frenzy that was the hangar deck. Klaxons blared, smoke choked, trained and unflinching crewmen and women made an orderly panic to the escape pods.

Xenna nearly fell over again. She was not particularly tall, and the blonde shipman draped over her shoulders and bleeding profusely from the head was not particularly light.

“Ensign,” snapped the Mystic, calling the attention of one of her nearby subordinates not already busy directing the evacuation or helping the wounded. “Take her from me and get on the next shuttle.”

“Yes, ma’am!” cried the man, hurrying to carry his sister-in-arms off. It was what they did. They were a good crew. This was a good ship. Their records could attest no less than greatness, again and again. When there came a call, they always answered—

There was another massive explosion, and the ship keened around them, rocking, rocking to her core and all through her durasteel bones, making the marrow vibrate inside her many tiny passengers. Metallic screams and reverberating thuds made a dying cacophony around the last of the fleeing crew.

The young Human captain cursed, her normal decorum and beauty forgotten, smudged in blood and soot and sparks as the hull gave another great shudder underfoot. The Force buzzed in her skull.

They were out of time.

“Go!” she shrieked at the lingering officers and soldiers and engineers alike. “Go, go, now!”

She dove into a pod herself, crammed with several others, watching the hatch close, watching in a blur of motion as they launched and the faces of those still stumbling out of the turbolifts went up in flame and then—

The heat and light was too intense, Her eyes screwed shut with a shout, and then they were tumbling, thrown, hurtling wide of the final explosion, chased by shrapnel and fire. Their bodies slammed into the walls of the pod, limbs breaking or bending around each other. Xenna’s skull impacted with a seat and her silken head scarf grew red and wet. They were spinning so fast that there was no sense or time or up or down, just their own screams and the merciless silence of space around them, lit by the Nighthawk’s burning corpse and the continuing bolts of searing crimson from Ol’Val’s stationary defenses.

In her daze gazing out at the whirl of light and darkness as her stomach pressed up into her throat, the Captain thought to herself — perhaps, deluded — that she saw the other ships, other pods. That perhaps most of them had survived.

Then something else hit them, and her head hit the floor, or ceiling, and then there was just the dark.


Auxiliary Docking Bay 12
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

The metallic screech of durasteel on the docking bay’s oil-stained floor stabbed through the Kiffar’s ears and teeth like the sparks thrown from the barely-controlled collision before him. His biceps ached, quivering from an effort that felt as physical as it was mental. Out the corner of his eye, the Equite could see his half-Ryn Gatewarden, a look of grim implacability plastered across her sharp features as she, too, held out both hands towards the oncoming sphere. Over twice his height, the orb careened towards Terran at a half-dozen klicks, showing no sign of slowing.

“Cheer up!” she said. “The day could get better!” she said. I knew I should have stayed in bed this morning.

To his left, the white-haired, white-eyed half-Sephi Gatekeeper grunted in effort, her own hands at her side. On the far-side of the Elder, Arcona’s newest Knight Leeadra screwed her eyes closed, sweat pouring down her cerulean brow. For the briefest moment, Terran let a note of pride swell within him as the quartet held their ground. Then his left forearm snapped, and a cry tore from his throat as he fell to one knee.

Fighting back the red that edged into his vision, the Quaestor swallowed his shout and drew in a ragged breath. He opened his mouth to order his compatriots to move, hoping they’d have time to dive out of the way before the incoming ball of death flattened them. Before the words could leave his mouth, he felt the air knocked from lungs and found himself careening across the durasteel deck. As his vision cleared, a guttural roar filled the bay and the Kiffar craned his neck past the tangle of tan skin that pinned him to the deck. A huge, gray Wookiee stood at the rear of the bay, cloak thrown haphazardly across one shoulder, with a giant kriffin’ gun in his monstrous paws. With an echoing whump, a small black pellet spat from the large silver chamber, aimed squarely at the escape pod they had been trying so desperately to stop. Terran attempted to raise his left hand, moving instinctively to deflect the grenade’s course, but the movement shot red through his vision darker than the blood that now coated Zujenia’s arms. He opened his mouth to cry out—

And the red was all that remained.

A tingling warmth pulsed through his mind and immediately ignited into a fire as he came awake. His eyes were clear, but his left arm was an inferno, and the Kiffar gritted his teeth while drawing weakly on the Force to dampen the screaming nerves.

A blue-hued arm, slick with crimson blood, snaked under the Quaestor and gently lifted him to a sitting position as he shook his head, willing away the pain-fueled fog. Growling under his breath, Terran turned to his Gatewarden and forced a brief, shallow smile. Zujenia nodded back tersely, even her ever-vigilant manner worn down by circumstance.

Glancing past the half-Ryn’s muscled shoulders, the Kiffar spied the escape pod halfway across the docking bay. It had come to a halt a dozen meters past where the quartet had made their stand, and — judging from the scraped-raw decking — had careened straight through the spot where Terran had knelt. Held in place by emergency netting — no doubt the payload of the grenade Kelviin had fired — the pod had come to rest more than half-askew. Its hatch, facing the bay’s ceiling rather than at ground level, looked to have been cut open with a lightsaber and the Twi’lek Gatekeeper Tali stood abreast the opening, pulling out survivors from the Nighthawk’s crew and gently lowering them to the deck. The Knight moved with a quick, competent efficiency, with little wasted movement but the utmost care for her charges.

Maenaki Dalevi’in, Qel-Droma’s Sephi half-breed Aedile, stood at the foot of the pod, helping steady the erstwhile passengers and sending them shuffling towards the bay’s rear. Despite her business-like manner, the shipmen seemed comforted by her composure. All were gashed and bruised, and many showed the telltale signs of concussions to the Kiffar’s experienced eyes, but they quickly filed to the makeshift reception of Gatekeepers near the bay’s blockaded exit.

Opposite the escape pod, and closer to the auxiliary bay’s magcon field, the whine of repulsorlifts cut out as The Cornered Rat, Bol’era’s YT-1000, settled into place. Isshwarr, Terran’s Wookiee Fade, stepped up to his side and waved a furry greeting towards the ship. The Quaestor could just make out the top of Kolot’s tufted ears above the cockpit’s dash. The ship’s Umbaran Arcanist owner sat in the co-pilot seat beside the diminutive Ewok. Terran nodded in appreciation and tried to project a feeling of contentment and satisfaction at a job well done. Theirs had been no easy task, collecting the escape pods — or, in the case of the final one that had just been brought in with thrusters malfunctioning and life support failing, crashing it as gently as possible.

“This is going to need a cast and some serious downtime,” the Ryn murmured as Terran felt the Force flowing from the Gatewarden into his shattered arm.

He grunted in acknowledgement as she ripped the hem free from her tattered cloak. “Don’t forget the prescription for a pint of Whyren’s Reserve.”

Zujenia shook her head in exasperation before pulling the Quaestor’s blasters from their holsters, hitting the power pack releases, and holding the barrels firmly against either side of his left forearm. The makeshift bandage seemed to rise of its own accord and wrap itself securely around the improvised splint. She let go of the blasters and quickly tied off the repurposed cloth, then rose to her feet. She glanced towards the crew filtering to the bay’s rear and Terran nodded as he casually waved his right hand.

“I’ll live. See what you can do for them.”

Zuji took a step away, then paused briefly, turning back towards Terran. “You did good.” She flashed him the barest hint of a smile, her chitin-tipped nose crinkling in a glimmer of her optimistic bedside manner, before she resumed her quick-stepped walk to the Nighthawk’s congregating crewmen.

As Terran levered himself to his feet, pressing his good arm against a nearby crate for balance, a loud commotion from the nearly-empty escape pod drew his gaze. Eyes blazing, Nighthawk’s captain pulled herself bodily from the escape pod’s hatch, ignoring Tali’s proffered help. She leaped to the floor, and Terran knew that he’d never really seen anyone that could be accurately described as “fuming” until that moment.

Xenna’s voice was fury itself as the Mystic’s eyes locked on the Kiffar. She stalked towards him, ignoring Maenaki’s strident protestations, and as her hands raised in the wounded Quaestor’s direction, energy crackled between her outstretched fingers.

“You traitorous, slime-tongued, nerf-frakking, kark-eating Huttspawn!”

“It wasn’t us,” he replied, struggling to keep his voice calm. “The station’s been—”

The words cut off as the first blast of lightning shot from her fingertips, arcing across the dozen paces that separated the pair. His lightsaber came to hand with the speed of thought, and the ochre blade met the dazzling darkness of energy head-on.

“Listen to me, Xenna,” he growled, biting off each word. “I’m telling you, it wasn’t us.”

The Human seemed deaf to his words. He struggled to come up with a way to reason with her, grasping at straws. Then his Aedile took a step forward. Her arm flashed up and out, knuckles connecting solidly with the base of the Krath’s skull, and she collapsed bonelessly to the floor. Terran raised his eyes to hers, frustration evident in his hardened features. She shrugged placidly in response, giving the Quaestor a small assured smile before saying: “Hesitation is a terminal condition and time is always of the essence.”

Sighing in exasperation, Terran tried to run a hand through his unkempt hair. His left hand.

“Sithspit!” he growled.

“Cheer up!” roared a melodious voice in Shyriiwook. Terran looked over at Isshwarr, quirking an eyebrow. “The day could get better!”

The Quaestor ground his molars as he sheathed his lightsaber and picked up the fallen Krath with the Force, levitating her towards her comrades.

Sure. There’s no way it could possibly get worse.

The Bulkhead
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

“…pounding through the corridors, blaster bolts bouncing off the magnetically shielded walls. There was an cadre of mercs on our mostly-metaphorical tails, but we could hear more of that Huttslime’s goons in the distance, bursting into the homes that lined the hallway and slaughtering anyone they could find…” The Quaestor gestured expansively when words failed him, as if to show the whole experience was too big for summation, but his normally-fluid motion was made clumsy and brittle by the pressure splint on his left forearm.

Despite a few hours of rest in the ersatz hideout, the Kiffar’s pupils — like so many of those around him — were sluggish in his bloodshot eyes. He was a mottled collection of cuts and contusions, looking more like a sentient, humanoid bruise than a proud Gray Jedi. His fellow Arconans around the tables — and the rest scattered throughout the former prison’s conference room — looked no better. Across from the Qel-Droman Quaestor, Xenna Azara opened her mouth to speak. She closed it after a moment, though, rubbing her temples instead. Once she had awoken and discovered the true situation on the Shadow Port, she had displayed a reticence that belied her uncontrolled passion in the docking bay.

For a time, no one spoke.

In the end, it was the purple-skinned Twi’lek who broke the room’s pregnant silence. She lifted her golden-eyes, half-lidded from an exhaustion that went deeper than her bones. “I vas in The Lucky Lekku.” Her words came slowly, emotionlessly hollow as if something vital in her had torn or broken. “Three dozen thugs, mostly Veequay, stormedt the club. They openedt fire before I couldt blink. There vere a pair of dancers on stage,” she whispered. Despite her sluggish words, her metal-tipped lekku beat a frenetic counterpoint to her recital, twitching in obvious agitation. “The first salvo hit them, tearing through their guts. The blaster rifles were a constant shriek, punctuatedt by shattering glass, screams, the roar of flames…but still, I couldt hear their moans the entire time. They never stoppedt. The bar caught fire from the blaster bolts and alcohol, and it touchedt off the ceiling as well. The supports creakedt like a godt’s joints popping. Still, the dancers moanedt. Finally, one of them…one of the Veequay cut out their tongues. He didn’t kill them. He. Cut. Out. Their. Tongues. They ran off after they hadt ransackedt the place. I…” The former slave paused and swallowed visibly, looking down at her hands. Her purple-hued flesh edged towards red, as though from too vigorous a scrubbing. But she looked down as if she could still see the dried and caked blood that had sleeved her graceful limbs. “I killedt them before I left. It vas all I couldt do.”

Koliss, sitting to the Twi’lek’s right, reached out a hand as if to offer comfort. He paused for a moment, unsure how to react. None of them were sure. Finally, he settled for laying a hand on her shoulder. She shot him the briefest of smiles, before her gaze fell back to her own hands, cradled in her lap. There were a few murmurs throughout the cramped chamber before silence once more threatened to drown the assembled Arconans.

Finally, Xenna stood. “They destroyed our home and killed our people,” she began, her eyes moving across the room to meet the gaze of her surviving crew. “They took your homes and captured your people.” As she spoke, she looked at each Qel-Droman in turn. “We can let them have this rock. Steal a ship, blow the moorings, and be back on Selen in a few hours.” Here she paused, and when she resumed, her characteristic passion filled her voice. “Or we can gut every last one of these scumsucking nerf frakkers and teach them, once and for all, that Dajorra is ours!”

In the holovids, a rousing cheer would have filled the room. Even in their darker corner of reality, Terran expected the Krath’s speech to be met with words of assent. Instead, a low hiss clattered across the room.

As a belated warning klaxoned through his sluggish skull, the grenade exploded and gouts of tear gas filled the air.


Eldar, Dajorra System

Eldar was a place of contradiction.

Its two halves varied as greatly and as little as its two peoples; the earth that crusted over its surface, broken by ocean, was the same mixture of carbons and calcifications on each continent. And yet, the speckled surface of the land was different, one a stretch of rolling, mountainous rock broken by forest basin, the other a tumult of jungle crowned with a deep desert. Different, just like the bodies that roamed each piece were dissimilar in their gait and speech and gods and the tools they held despite the same marrow and mucus underneath their stretched skin and so, to each other, they were alien. They warred.

Their wars tried to kill them in the spring, and summer, and in autumn and winter too. They never succeeded as well as they would have liked, but war was patient. It waited.

Death did not.

On Tairiku, it was nearing fall. There were few trees from which leaves could fall in the heart of the Sabaku desert, but some did, scattering from slim, scarred branches buffeted by wind and light creeping from the hills to the northeast as the sun gathered itself, a white eye punched through the pale gray sheet of the sky, weeping. The vague forms of a clay and duracrete skyline began to take shape as the dawn pale lengthened, beams crawling over shopfronts and squat homes and sunken buildings and into windows like fingers into mouths. The great oasis city rose from the billowing dust, stretching to the hills, the scene lit by small and innumerable fires that burned like a tattered quilt of fallen stars. Smoke curled from them and from sources unseen to make one solid black ribbon curling up towards the atmosphere. The air tasted like the dust and the smoke and something heavy and choking and sweet. Where the light touched, it showed the dust and the smoke and it showed the crumpled forms of bodies in it. Men and women, old and young. Their blood and the fat of their lean bodies bubbled and dried in the dust under the relentless beat of sun — some were old, and some were fresh, and all rotted.

Pestilent corpses lined the streets. Stacked in squares, in deep and wide pits half-dug for mass graves. In their homes and squatted in doorways. Many of their clothes and mouths and emptied eye sockets were stuffed with dried herbs and flowers, warding off the sickness as much as the stench. The blossoms had done little, and when they too molded, their sweetness only deepened.

Across the ocean was, like all of Eldar’s contradictions, a scene only different in the least crucial of ways. The Sardinians of Aifreann did not lay in the bloodied sands like the industrious Keadeans did; their husks were strewn amidst their city-states nestled in valleys and pockets of forest, less preserved as the constant, slow simmering of humidity and heat made molasses of their bones and fed the earth underneath them. The picture was different and the land was different and the people were different - just enough to quarrel - but in this at last they were united. In this, this sickness, they were equal.

They were nearly all, all of them, each and every one, dead.

Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System












“Please, everyone!” Riverche attempted to shout, hoisting her small frame onto the roof of a ramshackle speeder, its frame dented and windows shattered from thrown bricks. The three guardsmen around her pulled sharply together as the growing crowd drew closer, hands going to their weapons. Further up the avenue, more and more people were spilling into the streets, stumbling out of their homes, some dragging each other, some hand in hand, others with fists knotted. Despite their differences, they were united in their aggressive postures.

The shouting rose, curses and questions flying with every other word, every other breath. The commlink on her hip buzzed, and so did those of her guards, chatter spitting out continuously through static and background noise. Military units were moving in to close down each of Estle’s tiers. Apparently, the dissidence was spreading well beyond Capac ring. The Galaren woman’s lips pressed into a thin line.

She lifted her hands, trying to call out again, her breath mask making her voice sound robotic and worryingly unfriendly. “LISTEN! GO BACK TO YOUR HOMES! EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL, YOU’LL BE ALRIGHT, RETURN TO YOUR HOMES—” It was what they’d been ordered to say, every one of them, all through the chain. The first priority was containment — the disease that had appeared was spreading. “GO HOME—”

“WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!” one voice crowed. It might have been a young man, she couldn’t tell. “NOT UNTIL YOU ANSWER US!”


“I don’t care about answers, my children need food—”

“YOU need food? My husband hasn’t eaten in days—”




“Help us, plea—”


Their shouts only redoubled. The incensed screams outweighed the pleading wails, but they all pressed closer, hands reaching, faces drawn and flushed, eyes bright. The Arconan’s hand dropped to her weapon with trained instinct, heartbeat quickening. Her guardsmen drew their blasters.

“Ready,” one started, speaking to his fellows, then louder, “READY, AIM!”

“HOLD!” came another, louder shout from behind them, blaring from a microphone whose garbled echo boomed. All eyes turned to the wall of men in the uniforms of Dajorra’s Armed Forces. They marched down the street, their bodies a solid block of rows and columns. An armored vehicle brought up the rear of the formation, and hanging on its side was a familiar face with the megaphone. Kharoc Garlan.

“ATTEN-SHUN! FORM LINE!” he called, and the soldiers at the front, who all bore shields and stun batons, threw up their defenses with a shout, ready for a skirmish. “MOVE UP!”

They marched forward, parting the crowd like a shark’s fin cutting the sea. Lights flashed atop the hovertank, and a recorded warning issued repeatedly from the speakers.


The line reached them, and their small squad fell behind the protective barrier of bodies. Riverche noted the riflemen moving directly behind each man with a shield. Her eyes flickered upwards, spotting snipers in place on the rooftops.

It worked, quickly. A different shade of fear lit in people’s eyes and they retreated from the soldiers, shouting or stumbling, some throwing bricks or litter but nonetheless moving back. Some coughed, skin beginning to show sores, and others cried.

The back of the column reached the speeder and Kharoc saluted her respectfully, his face hard and focused. She nodded back, then scanned the streets again, worry gnawing at her gut as she noticed smoke a ways away, across the city. Their comms buzzed and buzzed. No riots had truly broken out, but the civil defense force was facing confrontation all across the city.

It’s getting worse…

Cold Storage
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

Zujenia shivered.

It was cold. The power had been cut to the sections where they’d retreated, and while the emergency light’s dim grim glow remained, the heating had not. Only the thick durasteel of the station’s walls and the asteroid’s rock was between them and the frigid void of space now, and it wasn’t hard to tell. All the blankets and spare materials — cloth, tarps, sheets, even the zero-g suits from the escape pods — had all gone to swaddle the worst of the wounded, who shivered where they lay against the dilapidated walls or tucked into corners in one of the three buildings in which they squatted.

She rubbed her hands up and down her arms and pointedly ignored the chill, breath puffing in a small cloud.

“Listen up,” the half-Ryn said shortly, pushing back her fatigue and the watering sting behind her eyelids. Koliss had suggested putting fire sauce from a ration pack in their eyes to help keep them all awake, and she hadn’t been about to argue with the medic. “We’ve managed to lock down this area,” her finger stabbed into the middle of the holoprojection, skin turning pure blue, “and the vents within it. That’s our ingress point.”

She, along with the rest of her Gatekeepers, her superiors, and every one of the able-bodied Nighthawk crew were gathered around the projector, sitting, kneeling, or otherwise standing on the rusted warehouse floor.

Her digit moved, tracing ventilation shafts. “We can take this one back to The Pride, and from there make our way here.” She indicated another major duct installation, “We can follow these shafts all the way to the control room. We’re going to encounter resistance at our first point—” The area was riddled with red markers indicating what little they had last gathered of the enemy’s positions. “—and the final two miles of the ducts move upward and pass by the core, so we’ll have to climb, and it’ll be hot. But we will get through.”

Her determined tone brooked no argument, and neither did the hard chips of her amber gaze. They would save their people and take back their home.

“Sounds like a plan,” Terran said with a confidence for which she was grateful, no matter how hotly her gut burned with protective fury. He stared steadily at her, trusting and tired, and she glanced back before he turned to his Aedile. “Stay here and organize a cozy little barricade. If this rescue fails—”

“—I will see that your sacrifices are not unspent, and make certain our remaining charges stay safe and well away from harm,” Maenaki replied with the utmost sincerity and reverent concern, her eyes lowering briefly.

“Kark that! You’ll come and rescue us! No one left behind, you hear?”

The half-Sephi’s ears swiveled and twitched as she blinked, suppressing surprise, or perhaps a smirk. Her head titled. “Of course, my Lord.”

The Quaestor huffed, then nodded to Zujenia as the woman stood, gripping the strap of her staff with fingers that shook sporadically from the cold. “Ready to kick the hornet’s nest?” he asked.

A feral twinge crept into her implacable gaze. “Let’s kick some hutt tail.”


The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

“My Lady, you need to rest. You’re making yourself ill.”

The Shadow Lady sat on a spare chair in the overflowing medbay. Every able member of their staff that had so much as passed a first aid course was on call to help, handling the sick and wounded. The entire west wing of their castle-like home had been sectioned off for quarantine, and coughing, seizing bodies lined beds, floors, and pallets in every office and cupboard.

Atyiru shook her head at her fussing nurse. “Give me another dose, Astrid, or I’ll do it myself.” Realizing how she sounded, her voice softened, “Please. We have to be close, we have to be.”

“My Lady—”

Her attempt at decorum evaporated, and she snapped, “Give me the dose. Now.”

Begrudgingly, the other medic did so, passing her another handful of amphetamines. The Miraluka lowered her face mask briefly and swallowed them, then stood abruptly, feeling all her muscles throb and her sleepless head spin. She ignored them.

“I’ll sign a waiver later that it was against your advice. Go see to the others,” the Consul said, moving swiftly out into the hall and down just another few doors to the mortuary and pathology lab. She navigated around frantic workers dressed just like her in protective equipment, masked and gloved and gowned. They couldn’t risk the plague spreading further before they could combat it.

Thankfully, their resident madman was rather resistant to whatever the infection was.

Her sensitive ears swiveled as she entered her passcode and the appropriate door slid open for her, heels clicking down the long hallway. Ood Bnar’s curious chattering floated on the cold, dry air that tasted of bleaching agents and preservatives.

“…enlarged lymph nodes…mmm, yes, further buboes in the axilla, upper femoral, inguinal and cervical regions…Drip, drop, drop…yes…said viable patients presented fever, seizures, gland swelling…anyone with cramps or chills? Drip, drip. Ah, yes…The deceased presented with…hematemesis…the epidermis seems to have begun decomposing premortem.” There was some shuffling. “Blasted reports, never done right…Here we are…additional symptoms in viable patients so far…include extreme fatigue…gastrointestinal problems…delirium and coma. Pustules appearing on dermis predominantly white in color, and all patients present cyanosis…”

There was a click. He was dictating. Atyiru waited until the second, familiar click that she knew would indicate the holorecorder was stopped before speaking as she walked into the last room on the left.

“What do you have for me, Ood?”

The mumbling stopped. “Hmm? Oh. Lord Consul. Yes, yes, you were coming for a report, weren’t you? Come. Quite interesting, quite, yes. This fellow here,” he tapped the bloated, swollen body on the table. “Was not Arconan or Selenian. He seems, however, to be our Patient Zero. Or one of them.” One creeping branch from somewhere on his person handed her a datapad. “We have cataloged multiple Patient Zeroes, all of whom, upon further scrutiny, possessed fabricated backgrounds according to our DIA correspondents. A large group arrived about the same time, but we also have earlier travel logs with similar characteristics arriving here on Selen even earlier, and several that were routed to Eldar afterward. All that we can track down now are dead, of course.”

The Miraluka sighed as her mind whirled, gesturing at the autopsy table. “Well, who is he then? Who are any of these people? Smugglers, or—” She stopped, then whispered. “…no. Oh, Ashla, Bogan, no.”

“Mmm, it seems they were carriers sent specifically to infect us. Such would be my conclusion, at the least.”

“Plague…carriers. They sent…They…Their own…people!”

“The sad fools probably didn’t even know. Quite a surprise for this one when he started coughing a lung up, I am sure. Metaphorically speaking, of course. It will never cease to amuse that, for all your fondness of that expression, you silly species cannot actually expectorate your pleura from your chest cavities…”

“They’re just bloody toying with us, the bastards.” She made a disgusted sound. “Ood, what more can you tell me about the disease?”

“I believe we’ve actually seen the pathogen before. Do you recall, young Knight Araave, the Death Walker outbreak on Eldar those years ago?”

Atyiru froze. Memories danced, buried somewhere in her brain.

Poison and hunger and greed pouring through the door; blood splatters the metal like falling rain among them. So many walked without limbs. Some dragged themselves forward, sick with starvation and rage, their bones rattling, closer, closer. They come and then there’s a cacophony of blaster-fire from two sides, crashing together like angry waves. They’re screeching, fighting, wailing for survival. She would follow movement with the barrel of her gun and fire. Then the others would point their blasters and fire. And they’d all fire until the body fell and then it got up and lunged again and they kept firing until the torso was so shot up and burned that the limbs didn’t have anything to attach to anymore.

And they still kept shooting. They kept—


They never had faces to her and their names are gone now but she remembers them — the boy and girl she fought with that day. The girl, a pretty little sly thing, the Walkers liked her. They liked her quite a bit. It didn’t matter how many times she threw herself between them and her, no, no. They just kept trying to get around her. They wanted that pretty, sly girl.

Maybe they just wanted her eyes. Maybe the eyes tasted best. She didn’t have eyes, so they didn’t care too much about Atyiru; but the pretty little sly thing, she had eyes and they bled. There was a lot left to eat even after they took the eyes, and she screamed.

They liked the boy’s hands a lot too. Ate the fingers one by one. She counted each bone by his shouts. Twenty-seven bones in the hand. Twenty-seven bones. Two hands. Fifty-four times he screamed.

There are three major bones in the Human arm, and together with the hand, they make thirty. But he didn’t scream for those.

Not enough air? Perhaps—


She wields a blade of light now, and they fear the light and they want the light, oh, yes, they want. They take her skin. She takes their heads. They take chunks out of her. She takes their hearts. They take her everything, and she can’t take anymore from them, because the heads and hearts are gone so why aren’t they dead? Why aren’t they dead why aren’t they—

“—My Lady, do you need me to repeat myself? Or a new set of ears, perhaps? I have a man over in Cyro Six whose would match you quite well, I think. Not so pointy though.”

Atyiru found her voice. “My ears are perfectly fine, Ood, thank you. Are you certain this is the Death Walker plague? The victims, they…They aren’t…”

“Rabid, enraged cannibals? It isn’t the exact Death Walker virus itself, but a modified strain. Excellent craftsmanship. Tell me, when we capture the enemy generals, could I have their scientists to examine? I’d rather love to pick their brains.”

She didn’t need to ask to know he meant that more literally than not, and ignored it. “We’ve seen no signs of rage, hunger, aggression… The brain is unaffected?”

“Correct, their amygdalae​ are of average size and, if anything, their adrenal levels are lower than normal. As you can see — or, well, can’t see — the only similarities seem to be in the aggressiveness of the bacteria’s virulence and the accompanying hemorrhagic fever. It will take me some time, but with the original strains and this new one, I should be able to synthesize a vaccine from our current stock fairly quickly. We would need more supplies for mass production, but—”

“Get on it, right away. Your top priority is to dispense immediately with an antibiotic for the sick, and a vaccine for the population.”

“As you say,” hummed the Neti, vines and branches flicking languidly. “Shall I summon you when I finish?”


“Very well. Ah! Do you have any more data for me—” he’d barely finished the query when she passed him a datapad of her own, far used to the tree-man’s habits by now, “oh, very good. The living are so much more…irritable to study, no? Interesting, though.”

“Just focus, my friend. We may save ourselves yet.”

“But should we?” chuckled the Neti, making her spine tingle slightly.

“Yes,” the Consul said, a little sharply. She turned away. “We must.”


The Brig
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

Everything ached. Muscles he didn’t even know he had possessed were strained and tired. The cell was too cold, the sad excuse for bedding too thin, and the outfit he’d been forced to sport was a sick joke. Kordath Bleu knew that every Hutt had their own proclivities, but he’d never known of one that fancied Ryn dancers. The garment was mostly just a harness and a loin cloth, fashioned in such a way that it fit snugly over the base of his tail. If it weren’t for the lack of anything else, he’d have almost called it comfortable after years of dealing with second rate tailor jobs on his own pants.

This crimelord, Whallata, a name he was still having problems accepting — though she appeared to revel in how big she could get — was getting her worth out of him. Since the raid, a blur of memory all its own to the Ryn involving concussion grenades and grabbing hands, he’d been to bed twice, and the midday meal had just come through. So far it had been standard fare for one in his position: nutritious enough to give him energy, bland enough to make him debate killing any vermin that entered his cell for a bit of flavor. Food that was meant to keep him alive and trim, he guessed, as he hugged his narrow chest and rubbed at his body for warmth. Whaley’s own ‘entertainment’ involving him wasn’t helping his fatigue, between the demands for traditional Ryn dancing and the strange wheel she kept in sight, forcing him to run on it for her amusement.

Sounds from the hall outside of his cell brought his attention away from his personal misery. A smaller Hutt, comparatively, at least, was sliding his mass down the row of cells. Kord hadn’t seen many others locked away, though from what he’d gathered in snatches of conversation, this Whaley was forcibly recruiting at the moment, so that would likely change. As the Hutt drew nearer, Bleu couldn’t help but whistle out a few short sounds of amusement from his fluted nose, drawing the slug’s focus and ire.

“What so funny, little womprat?”

“Sorry, mate, uh, nice vest,” stated the Ryn, trying to keep a straight face. The Hutt was sporting a stereotypical spacer’s vest, the kind made famous by smugglers and pirates during the last big galactic war. A length of leather with multiple belts hooked together that, he noticed on closer inspection, held a pair of blaster holsters in place inside the reach of the Hutt’s short arms. That was odd. Usually, they didn’t worry about such things. “And nice gun belt. Vry, uhh, do it yerself, eh?”

“Hmph,” grunted the Hutt, already slithering on.

“Oi! Mate! Come on, did nae mean ta hurt yer feelin’s or nothin’! Tis a proper nice vest, it is. By the by, could ya maybe find a poor little womprat a blanket? Gonna catch me death in here, and I doubt yer bosslady would like that!”

The Hutt tilted its head but didn’t look back at him, pausing before shuffling on.

“Well be that way, mate,” grumbled the Ryn, settling back on his bedding and shivering. “Two days down, two ta go before they figure it out, I reckon.”

He shouted in alarm as the world went dark, struggling and popping his head out from the sudden pile of fabric that had covered him.

“Hey, thanks mate! Ya got a name, oh savior of mine?”

This time the young Hutt’s eyes lit up, and Kordath worried he’d done something wrong. The mistake became apparent as the slug planted both fists on its sides, much as a humanoid would their hips, and puffed his pudgy chest out, vest and all.

“They call me…El Gordo the Hutt!”

“Who’s they?”

Gordo looked visibly deflated when he realized the Ryn wasn’t awestruck by his heroic display. “I do. Mostly just me. For now! But one day I’ll have my own ship and become a famous smuggler!”

“That so?” grinned Bleu. “Workin’ for Whaley gonna get you that ship?”

“Quiet, fuzzball or I’ll take the blanket back.”

“Right-o, El Gordo,” he spoke quickly, not wanting to overstep his bounds on the first try. This young Hutt had the potential for helping him get out of this mess — not that the Ryn tired of being a prisoner in the right circumstances, but if Zujenia had to lead a rescue mission to retrieve him he wasn’t ever going to live it down. She wouldn’t hold it over his head, but Celevon would without a doubt. “Got any smokes, by chance?”

Didn’t mean he couldn’t try to wheedle what he could.


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

She wasn’t allowed to see Daddy anymore.

The last time was two whole forever days ago. His spots had gotten bigger and yuckier and started leaking and they smelled. He coughed more than he talked and slept more than he was awake and then he mostly just slept except for when he was barfing and when he did barf it was red. Bright red. Scary red. Ever would have thought it was cool except something just seemed too wrong and everything was wrong wrong wrong.

Ever’s stomach growled and she curled tighter around her legs, back pressed into the kitchen cabinets. She liked the corner spot. It was good for sitting against, made her feel small in the good way, not the bad one, which was how everything forever felt now.

Lea sulked at the table. While Ever wasn’t allowed to see Daddy, he wasn’t supposed to see Daddy unless Mother really needed Lea’s help for something, which wasn’t very fair, but it was something, so she didn’t complain. Only Mother went into the bedroom or saw Daddy anymore, and she spent hours at a time running in and out with a towel tied over her face, carrying more rags or bandages or usually just water in glasses or bowls and lots of trash.

Ever didn’t see her eat or sleep anymore. It seemed like she was always awake — every time Ever fell asleep and when she woke up again, there Mother was, on her feet. She looked like a pretty blonde skeleton, but she wasn’t sick like Daddy, and for that Ever was happy. She was scared already and she didn’t think she could be brave like Daddy wanted her to be if Mother got sick too because it was already so hard and she was really, really scared…

A clatter drew the little girl’s head up from where it had slumped over her arms. She blinked owlishly, turning towards her parents’ bedroom, and felt a little bit dizzy.

The door was wide open. Mother was sort of screaming, darting around the bed.

Before she had even finished deciding to do it, Ever was up and running, running for the open door, running for her parents — but her brother got in the way, bodily, blocking the door with all his big stupid tall self. And then there was something wrong with him too because he wasn’t trying to shove her away or being mean so much as he was just standing there, half-twisted to stare into their parents’ bedroom, and he was really still and stiff and just not right, not breathing.

“Sasalea,” Mother was saying, and it sounded distant and scratchy, “take your sister to her room.”

Lea shook, hard, she felt it. He made a sound like he was gonna cry, she heard it. Ever squirmed all the harder, trying to get around him, to look, to see his face, to see Daddy. She caught just a peak of her mother bent over her father, holding him down, or something. She saw him thrashing on the bed, like a monster in a holo. She saw foamy stuff at his mouth. She saw red all over.

“Sasalea!” Mother cried again, sharper. Was she crying too? No no no Mama wasn’t supposed to cry. "Take care of your sister. Sasalea, your sister. Take care of Everlily, go on now. Go on. Go. Go on."

Her brother jerked, stumbling back out of the doorway, back into her, forcing the girl to scramble away so she wouldn’t get sat on. Lea turned around and his face was red and his eyes were big like they were gonna fall out of his head and he was totally definitely maybe crying but he just half-tripped towards her and grabbed her arm and dragged her through the kitchen.

“Nooo! No, Lea, I wanna see Daddy! Let goooo!”

“N-no, Ever, c’mon,” he said, pulling. “We’re going to your room.”

“But Daddy—”

“Don’t look, Ever, you don’t wanna see.”

“I do! I do! I do! Why d’you keep sayins that I don’t? I wanna see Daddy!”

“No you don’t, okay? You don’t. Don’t look, Ever, don’t. Come on, do what Mom says.”

“What’s wrong with Daddy? Leeeeea! LEA LEMME GO I WANNA SEE HIM!”


He yanked and shoved and she yelped but he got them into her room and closed the door behind them. As soon as they weren’t moving, she knew something was wrong, because Lea shook really hard, really bad. He shook so hard that Ever pulled her arm out of his grip because it hurt and he let her.

Then, he broke, stumbled, tripped, and barfed too. He tried for her little waste bin and missed. It got all on her floor and down the side of the trash unit. It wasn’t red. Mostly clear. Not red. There wasn’t anything else there really because Lea was hungry too, as hungry as she was. Not red. It just smelled. Not red. Not red. Not red.

Her brother punched the floor weakly when he was done being sick, one twice, sagging, curling, flopping all limp in on himself, falling back against the bedframe. He hugged himself and shuddered and coughed.

And he cried. He cried bad and his face was ugly like it was melting with all the tears and snot and barf.

In a bad kind of small voice, Ever asked, “Is Daddy dead?”

Lea cried but shook his head.

"Is he dyin’?"

This time her brother nodded and tried to wipe his face on his arms but just got yuckier and then Ever was crying too. She dropped onto her butt where she stood, with her legs stretched out to kick into his, and cried and cried. He reached over and hugged her and they cried and cried together.

They cried, because they were hungry and Mother was sad and Daddy was dying and there was absolutely nothing else they could do.


Brought to you by the furry, former face of the Nighthawk and current Galeres Aedile, Kordath!

The Brig
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

“She pays very little because she can. She likes having another Hutt under her control. She believes it gives her status and prestige,” grumbled El Gordo, sounding weary. The Hutt had taken to settling outside of Kord’s cell on his off-time, conversing with the widely traveled Ryn about the spacelanes and adventure. To say the younger Hutt had a craving for excitement was an understatement.

“Should find another gig, Gordo. Workin’ for a gangster like Whaley is never gonna get ya where ya wanna go.”

“Whallata holds my contract, and I do not have enough saved to secure my freedom. Even if I did, where would I go?”

Kordath grinned. Those words felt like the hook he’d needed to get the amenable Hutt on his side. He’d come to think of Gordo, or El Gordo, as a mate. As Hutts went, he wasn’t a bad fellow, in Bleu’s opinion. As he went to open his mouth, sales pitch ready, alarms began to blare throughout the facility. A cursory check through the Force told him the time had come, and his grin returned, brighter. Twisting his arm uncomfortably through the bars of his cell, he placed a hand over the keypad outside.

“What are you doing!? Why are the alarms going off?”

“Shh, lemme concentrate,” grumbled the Ryn, eyes closed as he focused on the security panel, drawing on its past with the Force. Gordo watched him punch in a series of keys and heard the door click open, the cell door swinging out and Bleu swaggering out with it. Which was a feat, considering how he was still dressed.

“Not gonna miss that wheel,” he growled, glaring back into the tiny cell. “Look, mate, those alarms mean it’s time for me ta go, yeah? Some very angry, well armed folk are comin’, and they’re gonna do some nasty things ta anybody who stands up to 'em. So let’s get, yeah?”

“You suggest I go with you? You’re a prisoner!” Gordo pulled himself up to his full height, an impressive display of power from the young Hutt that gave Kordath pause.

“Uh, yeah. Oh! Look, mate, come work for me, yeah? Got a lovely ship, need a pilot for it, I’m terrible at the whole space thing. Ya can even use it ta go off doin’ the whole smuggler thing when I don’t need a lift, yeah? Adventure, excitement, you’ll find plenty workin’ for me.”

“I don’t know,” started the young Hutt, giving him a look of suspicion.

Didn’t matter, the Ryn was on a roll now. “And, it means gettin’ out of here alive. Stick with me, those nice folks comin’ ta off yer boss lady might let ya by. Course,” Kordath dropped the grin, giving his captor a serious look, “with all the trouble she’s causin’ on Selen, they may not. Not unless you got somethin’ worth turnin’ over. 'Sides myself, of course.”

Gordo’s large eyes bored into him, the gears obviously turning. “You mean the plague.”

“I mean the plague. You and me go get all the info about it so we can turn it over, they make a vaccine or cure or whatever the hell they wants ta call it, we get ta be big damn heroes, yeah? Free pass for workin’ for her Tubbiness and a ship ta fly ta your heart’s content. One time only deal, El Gordo.”

They were running. It was impressive to see how fast the Hutt could move when he had to, but the guy was still young and relatively light compared to his boss — ex-boss. Gordo fired his pistolas down the hall behind them, delaying pursuers while Kordath used the Hutt’s bulk as cover, a stack of datapads and notes clutched to his bare chest. Hopefully it would be enough for the mad bastards, or Ood, to turn out a cure when he got back to Selen. He tried not to think of Shay being trapped on a planet full of sickness, worrying more about the now.

Behind them, the sound of fighting died down, and he sensed a presence ahead. Elation filled him before he recalled his attire, skidding to a halt and almost being bowled over by Gordo.

“I need pants, I need a shirt, a jacket, a sheet, somethin’, mate!”

“We don’t have time, we need to get out of here!”

“Ya do nae understand, they find me like this and I’ll never bleedin’ hear tha end of it!”

“I have foundt him, Captain! And an enemy!”

Oh no.

“No, no! He’s with me, luv, don’t be callin— is that me jacket?”

Tali Sroka stared wide eyed at the slave-attired Ryn, her own past giving her some room to not judge, his coat hanging limply from her hand.

“Ve neededt it to track you,” she said, her mind trying to blot out the sight before her.

“Give it over, please? Before tha rest—”

“Is he injured?” That was Xenna’s voice, oh joy. The Human came around the corner, skidding to a halt and going as wide eyed as her Twi’lek companion.

“Just give me tha blasted jacket,” hissed the Ryn, reaching out to grab it. Tali’s hand wouldn’t let go. “Tali, lass, please, before tha rest of tha—”

“Captain, the Warden located that blasted Hutt— Oh my gods, my eyes, why!?”


Clad once again in his familiar, nerfhide coat and still stuck with the Hutt-provided loin cloth, Kordath looked quite comical as he followed Xenna, Tali, and the Nigthhawk team into Whallata’s throne room, dodging dead Besadii gangers along the way. Everyone came to an abrupt halt as they took in the sight of the Gate Warden, perched upon the expansive Hutt’s body, tearing her electrostaff out of the twitching slug’s mouth. Kord didn’t look away to see where the retching noise behind him came from, but he was pretty sure it was Gordo.

“Well, that’s done, let’s just find Bleu and get—" the hybrid began to say, turning to jump down and spotting him. The staff, covered in questionable liquids and little bits of what may have been the late Hutt’s lunch, hit the floor as she ran over and embraced the Ryn. She pulled back abruptly, holding him at arm’s length and turning red as she realized all the people watching them. “I’m, uhm, glad you’re okay.”

“You’ve been busy,” he managed to say, trying not to stare past her, towards her handiwork.

“What is all this?” She thumped the materials he was hugging to his chest.

“Info about the plague. Might help, ya know, treatin’ it? Umm.”

“What? And what is with the, umm, where are your pants?”

“No time ta be worryin’ about pants, luv. Is, um, is Shay okay?” He swallowed, looking, for the first time since his ordeal with the crazy Hutt crime lady started, a bit worried.

“I’m sure she’s fine, let’s get this intel to the people who need it. And find you some pants.” He listened intently as she turned away to retrieve her staff, certain he heard a quiet ‘eventually’ muttered.


A huge thanks to Maenakiethsaoi for this terrific set of PoVs!

Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Estle City was unusually hot, its normally temperate climate now blazed beneath a cloudless blue sky and raging golden sun. The alleys, once teaming with life and sound, now echoed each scattered rock as an invader approached. A single misplaced step created enough ruckus to alarm any who were hidden inside the pitch black nooks that pierced the stone walls. If one watched closely enough, they could see the shaded figures pressing themselves back from the sun-burned streets and deeper into the shadows of their once safe homes. From within, quiet sobs had been stifled for the time and were replaced by soft gasps as the two Shadow Hearts stalked the streets.

Strategos and Timeros Entar Arconae, brothers not of blood but of cause, walked the city, collecting statistical data on the bodies they saw littering the streets in heaping piles. Strategos placidly kept pace with the other Adept, blocking out the stench of decay as he smoked on a large cigar. His cantankerous companion flicked his fluid gaze from the refuse to his datapad, recording every death the plague caused.

“So, Timeros,” Strategos smiled with an offhanded gesture of his cigar, “I heard you went to visit Ol’val before your arrival here. I also heard it was coincidentally after the arrival of a crazy purple tailhead we all all know.”

“What you have heard, Strategos, is of no importance. The current problems we face and level of contamination demands our attention. Not hearsay and rumors.”

“Ah, touchy subject I see. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you mur—"

“Not the time, brother.” Timeros’ tone was more jagged in its frigid manner than even Strat was accustomed to hearing but, considering the circumstances, it was understandable.

“Fine, fine. How many corpses do we have so far?”

Timeros scanned the street, looking quickly to the left before turning. Without missing a beat, he moved his gaze back to the datapad.

“Three hundred and forty-two people.”

“That isn’t so bad." The dark haired Entar grinned as he flicked his wrist in dismissal. "Does our Consul realize she’s overreacting?”


Strategos glanced at Timeros from the corner of his eye and sighed. This was looking to be far more work than he had signed up for.

The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

Livana wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her wrist and pulled in a deep breath. She glanced over at Koliss as he shifted around a makeshift cot, pressing a cloth to a young girl’s forehead as he ran a scanner over her. The Gatekeeper stepped back from her table when the Human turned to her and shook his head. A twinge of sorrow struck at the woman’s heart, but she grit her teeth and moved towards her next patient.

Last night, the old woman who rested in the small cot before her had told her how proud she was of her. She had mistaken the Equite for her granddaughter while one of the other nurses did a biopsy of one of the pustules on her neck. Tears had streamed down her wrinkled face as she promised Livana a warm meal and cup of tea later, once the nightmare ended. As the young Arconan pressed her lips together and moved next to the cot, she fought back a sorrowful gasp as she glanced down at the fragile body before her.

The Loyalist clenched her jaw and held up the datacorder near her chin. Biting back any waver in her voice, she recorded her findings.

“Sallow bruising darkened the eye-sockets. Lips have turned blue from lack of oxygen in the blood. Each of the boils have drained into the sheets, unlike the previous victim’s which seemed to seep back into the corpse.”

She paused, glancing up towards the doors. An angry huff escaped her lungs as she glared at the doorway. She brought the data recorder back to her mouth, letting her fury seep into her words.

“Perhaps if our efforts could be directed to our patients… And their efforts directed at seeking medical attention, instead of spending days at home with tokens of exploitative charlatans claiming a rock will heal their nausea and fend away the boils. Then maybe, maybe we would be able to save some lives instead of merely tending to their deaths.”

A sudden hand on her shoulder caused her to jump backward and yelp angrily as she spun around. Koliss stood before her, a concerned frown creasing the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t worry, Liv. A cure is coming. It has to be. As hard as it seems to realize right now, this won’t last forever. We will get through this.”

“And how many will we lose in the progress? How many will slip by as we watch, able to do nothing?”

Koliss took a step back from her rage, putting up a hand to quiet her down.

“Have you slept?” he asked, watching the woman slump.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember anymore. Last time I tried…you remember that tiny boy from the other day?” Koliss nodded. “I couldn’t get his face from my mind. How he just begged me to stop the pain and there was nothing I could do. His pleas accuse me of letting him die everytime I close my eyes. And those accusations are continually growing in number.”

“But look,” Koliss gestured to the room, “look at what that is doing to those around you.”

Livana’s icy gaze scanned the room, watching as Vivibelle gave a brave smile to another dying civilian. To the other side of the room, Kharroc frantically scrubbed an empty cot, the mask on his face filtering the strong antiseptic spray. The recently arrived Gatekeepers and members of Nighthawk worked together, fighting against an intangible foe with all the fervor of soldiers mid-battle. The Human nodded at Koliss, regaining her composure and stiffening with renewed determination.

“You’re right. I’m not in this alone. We just need to give the Gate Warden more time. Thank you, Koliss.”

The Field Medic gave her a small smile and headed back into the fray. With a steadying breath, Livana steeled herself for the next fight and moved to the next cot in her row.

Planetary Orbit
Selen, Dajorra System

“Making our descent through atmo now.”

“Ye, I got it. Descent in 45 klicks.” The under-fluffed, angry teddybear growled under his breath.

Terran nodded absently, watching Kolot pull his feet from the main console and flicking off the main thrusters, allowing gravity to do the work. Once through the stratosphere, the Ewok Fade pressed the auto-landing button and let the ship move towards the docking port. The bay doors opened, allowing the Kiffar access to the Citadel. He gently landed the Interceptor and shut it down.

A moment later, the holocommunicator’s green light flashed. Terran glanced down and flipped the switch.

“I take it your arrival has gone as planned, m’Lord.” The figure it projected showed her hair had been tied into a series of long braids, her hands folded in front of her and an eerily placid smile on her face.

“Mae, what did I say about appellations?” he sighed. “Are the reparations and repairs underway?”

“Yes, Quaestor. I am sorry I could not be of more aid, but my talents are best suited for the Qel-Droman situation.” Her pointed ears twitched in frustration as she made a small gesture with her folded hands.

“Don’t sweat it. Make sure we have some place to bring our people back to.”

Maenaki gave Terran a curious look, smiled and whispered, “Make sure enough people survive to make it worth it.” Then she cut the feed.

The Qel-Droman Quaestor narrowed his eyes and raised an eyebrow as Kolot tugged his striped orange and yellow hat, stretching the knit fabric over his wide furry head.

“Where did you get that thing?” Terran asked, flicking the puff of fabric that wiggled between the Ewok’s ears.

“Crazybraids made it," replied the pint-sized pilot in passable Shyriiwook. "Said it would keep my ears warm in space.”

Terran took a moment, looking directly at the ears poking out of the woolen garment and quickly shook his head.

“You stay here. I’ll let you know if we are headed back out as soon as I can. Need to assess the sitch here first.” With a nod, Terran stepped out of the cockpit toward the open hatch. He slipped out of the ship and glanced around. The hanger was near-to empty and there was an oppressive stench of death to the air as the hanger closed over head. With the daunting weight of the dismal situation resting upon his shoulders, the Quaestor made his way down the Citadel halls. Hopefully Bleu’s team had gotten the info here in time.


And from our inestimable Consul…

The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

“What have you got for me, Ood?”

“Ahh, Lord Consul. Good, good, come here, just in time, hmm.” Gesturing her at the nearest empty, cold metal slab with one branch, the Neti scientist brandished a syringe in the another, all while still prodding at a corpse on an opposite table.

Obligingly, Atyiru held back a tired sigh and sat, rolling back the sleeve of her protective gown — she would need to change it now, but necessary measures. Ood lowered the injector, speaking as he did so, “My first attempts were remarkably unsuccessful — this strain is a masterpiece. Yes, yes. I could not synthesize a vaccination that would be effective without being more trouble than it was worth. An inactivated vaccine did not produce a strong enough immune response in the test subjects—”

“—the rats?”

“Hmm? Yes, yes, of course. Most likely. But! Not strong enough. And the attenuated version struggled as well. I could not weaken the virulence enough without killing it entirely and now we just have more sick patients—”

"You mean rats."

“I said that didn’t I? Hmm. Anyhoo.” He jabbed her arm precisely and depressed the plunger. The Miraluka gave a slight yelp at the unexpected movement. “Congratulations, you’re now infected. I’m thinking of calling it Haemorrhagic bubonus albana bacteriosis. Though, the intern was calling it White Death type II or some such nonsense.”

“We don’t have any interns! And what do you mean infected? Did you just give me an experimental vaccine?”

“Oh! No, no, my Lord, I’ve introduced a new strain of the plague into your system.”


“You see,” the Neti began, speaking loudly - and happily - to be heard over the bonesaw that began whirring behind him as the Consul’s glower grew cold. “Even with the information brought to us by our compatriots from Ol’Val, I was not able to create a sustainable, effective treatment. I was able, however, to recreate the pathogen…with my own alterations, of course. This particular version of the disease is just as virulent, just as rapidly spread and grown, and just as deadly — but not to the host! It attacks the previously introduced strain, if present, and is inert otherwise.”

“…the infection attacks the other infection.”


Atyiru’s lips pressed into a thin line. “And you’ve tested this?”

“You’ll be the first truly randomized patient, but yes. Tell me, are you feeling nauseous or feverish?”

“Exhausted and growing impatient — but no.”

“Right then! If you would, my Lord, do stay for observation…with your leave, I would like to begin testing some of our charges within the day. If it holds true, we will want to disperse as soon as possible.”

“My Stars…it’s actually working,” breathed one of the nurses to her side.

The Shadow Lady gave a bruised smile, staring sightlessly into the main medbay window, where their first crop of test patients were beginning to show signs of remission. A small girl actually stood from her bed. An expectant mother would not lose her babe. A man held his brother who had been ill a day before.

“So it is, thank Ashla and Bogan,” Atyiru murmured. “Though it may not arrive in time to save those who are already very ill — for them, we must also pray. But, the Force willing, those who have just caught it or may soon do so before being ‘vaccinated’ will be saved.”

Turning away from the window, she gestured for her chief medical officer to follow, and made her way over to a quiet swathe of hallway where Captain Bly waited with both her Quaestors and Rollmaster. She nodded to each of them, speaking quietly and firmly. “I want every Arconan, resident, and operative we have to be given the treatment immediately.”

“And the citizens?” Qyriea broke in, hands on her hips. “Are we giving this kriffing thing out or what?”

“Not so easily without exposing ourselves, and certainly not conveniently or rapidly enough. That is our second step. The first is to effectively inoculate a sizeable portion of the population, and for that, we need to go to the sick, not ask them to come to us.”

“So what, drop med packages on their steps?” Terran snorted.

“Something more proven than that. We spread this infection the same as the first — as soon as one of the Clan has been treated, they are to go out amongst the populace. They’re carriers. It will disperse exponentially just as the plague did. We be quick, we be discrete, we hit major population areas first. Start spreading word of a cure, lift the quarantine, coax people from their homes. Visit those who won’t or can’t leave their dwellings. As many as we can reach, we must try.”

“It will be done,” Timeros said mechanically, already typing on his datapad, no doubt sending orders.

“All we can,” Atyiru reminded grimly. “We save all we can. And the rest…the rest, we let go.”


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Ever watched someone die that day.

Face hollow. Empty. Like a ghost from holos she wasn’t supposed to watch but that Lea let her sneak with him after Mother and Daddy went to bed. He was so white, and the room was so dark. Hair white, skin white, drawn tight. But not his eyes. They made hollows. Black hollows, little pits. Empty. Gone. And his nostrils. Mouth. Black too. Black hollows. White face. Surrounded by people, surrounded by walls, in his bed. They were all so dim though. Their bodies slump. It’s like weights on their arms. They can’t lift their shoulders or heads. A child crouches on the floor. She cries. No one holds her. An older boy in the bathroom. He leans on the wall. Can’t look. Woman by the bed with the ghost. She’s there, but he’s gone. Ever just saw him breathing. Just checked. Touched his arm and hands even though she wasn’t supposed to. He was breathing but not good. Not enough air. Not enough air in him. So low. So. Low. Got Mommy. Got help. No help. There’s no help when they’re already dead and dying. Ever was only out the door a minute. Turned around to get Mommy. Turned around. In the bed, Daddy one second, ghost the next. Like his everything left out his hollow eyes. Gone. Gone. Gone. Empty. Black and empty and white.

Black and empty and and and—

Arms wrapped around her. Ever startled, hands darting out to shove but not doing much. Lea pulled her into a tighter hug, lifting her off the kitchen floor. She’d been sitting in the corner where she liked it and things didn’t feel so bad.

“He’s breathing again,” her brother said, and was he crying? Maybe. He sounded like it. “It was just for a minute, he just stopped for a minute, so it’s okay, Ever, okay? Gonna be okay.”

She wanted to ask him why he was lying, and tell Mommy and Daddy so he’d get put in timeout like she would when she got caught. But she didn’t. She just stared over his shoulder. His hair was lighter than hers and it tickled her nose. She sneezed on him. He made a noise but didn’t let go or call her gross or a punk.

“Leeea, stop,” Ever finally complained, struggling out of his grasp. “Let go, I don’ need a hug. I’m goin’ outside.”

“You’re…Ever, hang on, you’re not allowed out. C’mere. Sit with me.”

“You never agree with Mother. You said we should go out.”

“Yeah, but not right not. Come on, we gotta stick together, Ever, it’s gonna be okay.”

“I know.”


“Daddy’s dead,” Ever said. “So…so it’s over right? So. So it’s okay.”

Lea looked at her funny.

“…Mom!” he called over his shoulder as Ever sat back down on the floor, a little ways away from him. Fine, she wouldn’t go outside. But she didn’t need hugs. She wasn’t a baby. She was big already. Daddy had said so. Daddy was dead. But he’d said so. “Mom! Mom! I think something’s wrong with Ever! MOM!”

Mother came stumbling and tripping into the room in a hurry. “Wh-what? Is she sick? Does she have spots? Did she throw up? Oh, please, Stars, no no no—”

“No but she’s acting freaky, like scary freaky, she keeps saying Dad’s dead—”

“Well she’s just confused—”

“I told her he was okay, she isn’t listening, she’s just — look at her! She’s staring off, she keeps doing that! What’s wrong with her? Can she even hear us right now?”

Ever realized Mother was touching her, was in front of her. Lea was next to her again too and — couldn’t they just go away? Daddy had. Gone, gone.

“I-I don’t know,” Mother was saying. “Shock, maybe? Can…children can go into shock…can’t they? Yes…”

“You don’t know?! You’re — but you’re supposed to know!”

“I have never had to deal with as much, Sasalea!”

Ever got up and started walking to her room. They gaped after her, then grabbed her. Mother dragged her back into her chest, rocking. “Everlily, sweetheart, look at me. Listen to me, little flower. Look at me, can you do that?”

She stared at the floor.

“We’ve gotta do something, Mom.”

“The…” Mother shuddered, rocking her, petting her hair. “The Citadel…they will…”

"MOM! Dad’s gonna go any second and now Ever? COME ON! Forget the stupid karking Citadel and let’s, let’s do something we have to do something!"


More crying. All the crying, all the time now. Why? It was over. Ever had seen it. Ever wiggled out of her Mother’s arms and went to Daddy’s bedroom where the ghost was, since they wouldn’t let her go to hers. The pale thing was in the bed. Its chest rose and fell. It looked like him but wasn’t. She knew it. She did.

Her vision got blurry and she wiped at her face. Stupid crying. Stupid hugging. Stupid everything. She thought it, but it didn’t bother her. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She didn’t really feel like anything anymore. Was this brave? Was she being brave like Daddy had wanted her to?

The body in the blankets stopped breathing. Again.

“Mommy,” someone said, then louder, "MOMMY! MOMMY HELP!"

Was that her voice? Was she yelling? She thought she was being brave. Did that mean yelling too? She didn’t know…

Mother rushed in and so did Lea. Ever sat down on her knees where she stood. And she stared. She didn’t understand. Daddy was gone. Back?



Phantom Complex
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

Broken stone and bent metal bars stuck out from extreme angles in and around the emptied halls of Qel-Droma’s former headquarters. Abandoned refuse littered the corridors, casting ominous shadows beneath the flickering emergency lights. The lower levels had been previously evacuated as their specialized shield doors slammed shut for the last time, locking away any unfortunate soul to be trapped within the chaotic rifts of their once-carefully designed, gravitational flux. In the upper levels, deterioration from explosives and shrapnel had been scattered about, smearing long streaks of blood across the floor. A handful of corpses remained as obstacles for any survivors who crawled from the rubble.

The sound of a turbolift echoed through the escape tunnels that led out of the Complex and opened up into a large, dimly lit room. The darkened room was lit by shaded lights along the stone walls, giving the space an unhealthy burnt orange glare. Inside, a dozen people, Arconans and civilians alike, stood in various poses of wariness. Some seemed braced to jump into immediate combat, while others looked ready to run into a corner from fear. A scattered number of Nighthawk crew and Gatekeepers paced the area, eyes darting to and from the lift with increasing apprehension.

Their leadership, Terran, Kordath, Xenna and Zujenia were all gone and their Aedile had not been seen in several hours. The last they had heard, Terran, along with anyone with medical training, were on route to Selen. Zujenia and Xenna were on the hunt to find and rescue Kordath. With the absence of leaders among the Journeymen and Novices, Maenaki had quickly stepped up when it came time to evacuate. Servants, civilians and Force Users alike were rounded up and escorted to three of the still functional escape routes. Routes that had been repurposed from entrance points into the Phantom Complex were now the only means of survival for the Qel-Dromans.

“Where do you think she is?” a young, stern male in civilian dress quietly asked a dangerous-looking pale woman with shaggy dark hair. The Gatekeeper’s mercurial eyes pierced through the man before she shrugged and stepped further away.

Juliane Kelrune could not have cared less where the creepy half-breed Aedile had gone. The Acolyte had allowed the half-Zeltron, half-Sephi woman to convince her to leave a drink on the bar and, hours later, she still could still not figure out why. Any other time and that mug would have been carried along until empty, but something Maenaki had said or done managed to keep Juli sober and the drink out of her reach; and this realization did not set well with the short-fused Echani.

On the other side of the slowly-heating room stood Adem, an Umbaran whose sullen frown creased his handsome, pale features. The Aedile had, in her calm and quiet manner, ordered him to stay behind with the rest of the escapees while she went back in search of other survivors. He contemplated going in despite her demands, but something prevented him from entering the turbolift. The Gatekeeper stood next to it for a long while before he heard someone call out.

“Should we send someone after her?” Silence filled the air, but not his head. The lilting calm voice of Adept Sildren Lyonsbane pressed into his mind with the gentility of a vice.

No. We should wait. The former Daughter of Sadow made the slightest gesture with her fingers as her icy voice pierced through the young man’s resolve.

“No. We should wait,” he murmured before turning towards a wall and sitting down with his back against it.

Sildrin gave the man the slightest twist of a smile before she slowly turned away, gliding between the spaces of people and towards the door on the far side. The first civilians off the turbolift had made their way to the exit and were attempting to open it without success. Something had gone wrong with the lever and the first wisps of panic were seeping from the group as they tugged at the metal closure. The Sephi took interest for but a moment before she heard the sound of Juliane’s lightsaber ignite.

“Hey, you guys forget something?” The dark haired Echani heaved an aggravated sigh as she stomped over to the door, forcing the superheated plasma blade deep into the thick metal barricade. “Sometimes, I swear you people are dumber than you look.”

A few low, embarrassed chuckles escaped as others looked on in condescending dismissal.

Aedile Maenaki Dalevi’in slowly walked the emptied halls. Having tripped twice already since her return to the Complex, she fought to keep a steady pace. Most of the levels had been near-to fully demolished, but the Seltron needed to assess the accessibility and damage to the Quaestor’s Office on Beta Level.

“Rrogon, darling, are you there?” Maenaki purred into her comm as she gingerly stepped over the body of a woman who had been blown back and impacted the wall before slumping to the ground. The Aedile had watched as she pointed her charges to nearest exit.

“I’m here. What do you want?” the growl came, slightly muffled by what Maenaki assumed was his distance from the port.

“The Phantom Complex was compromised and destroyed. I need you to go retrieve the Arconan survivors from the Vannacutt Hotel.”

The silence lasted just long enough for Maenaki to get a view of the partially ajar door of Terran’s office. She smiled, ears twitching with glee as she approached.

“What made you think I would help them?” Rrogon Skar hissed through the crackling device.

“I know who killed your wife. None of these people, your former comrades, know. They’re innocents. Will you leave them trapped for me?” The Seltron tilted her head, curiously awaiting his response.

“Why would I care?”

“Simple. If you don’t, I can gladly turn you in and keep my knowledge to myself…Or,” she paused glaring at the device on her wrist.


“Or you can meet up with them, gain a target for your vengeance and someone on the inside to guide you to them. What do you say?”

“I’m on my way. You’d better come through, or it will be you who tastes my ligh—" Maenaki flicked off the comm, having grown bored before he could finish his barbaric threat, and chose instead to focus her attention on the door.

Most of the consoles had been disabled in the first few blasts and this one was no different. The Seeker sighed, looking down to her waist as she began unlacing her corset. Once the metal-laced garment hit the floor, the Aedile pulled her lightsaber from the holster that was hidden beneath. With a flick of her wrist, she activated the crimson blade and drove it into the broken entrance.

Once she had carved a large enough hole in the thick metal, Maenaki delicately slipped inside and thumbed her comm again.

“Juliane?” she whispered.

“What the hell? Where have you been? It’s frakking hot trying to burn down a stupid door. And bring my drink back!” Maenaki struggled not to frown in disgust at the string of obscenities that then poured through the communicator.

“Help is on the way. I have one more level to check before I can work my way out. How is everyone holding up?”

“How the frak should I know? Half these people look this glum all the time!”

This time Maenaki laughed. “Don’t worry your beautiful head. We will have you out of there in no time. And Julie?”

“About damn time. What?”

“I will owe you several drinks after this. Let the survivors know to expect rescue.” Another long list of profanities came from the furious woman before Maenaki interrupted, “Thank you, darling.” The Seltron flicked the device off as a high pitched metallic screech keened from the speakers and made her way to the powerless console. A wicked smile crossed her lips as she bent down and pulled a palm-sized device from her boot.

Rrogon Skar considered his options as he flew into the closest entrance to the shadowport. Thoughts of hunting down the Qel-Droman traitor, killing everyone who escaped the bombing and making his way to Selen were all floating around his mind. With a loud growl, the Kaleesh slammed his fist against the pilot’s chair in which he sat, rigid and fuming.

But Skar knew that killing everyone was not going to be as simple as he wished. Especially not without help from the inside. Although he knew little of the new Aedile’s motivations, he had his suspicions. No longer did his own loyalty lay in Arcona’s grasp, and as much as the Battlemaster did not like Maenaki, he knew that she was his best hope for vengeance.

His deep crimson eyes glowed from an inner rage as he approached the small docking bay. Rrogon ignored all signs of the chaos, blinded by his determination to get the Arconans out of the safehouse and receive his prize.

In the meantime, the survivors grew restless. And one in particular became enraged

The scattered remains of Juliane’s comm lay at her feet as she grit her teeth, pouring all of her fury into the door. To her, it felt like her skin was trying to crush her bones, her pulse racing so fast she could feel a nerve pulsing in her forehead. Although the Acolyte had not noticed, the majority of the Qel-Dromas had moved as far as they could from her, pressing themselves into one another rather than face her wrath. All but Sildrin, who stood exactly where she had before, the placid disinterest freezing her already icy feature in a look of curious indifference.

Juliane drove her shoulder into the metal door with a growl of rage, gasping as she stumbled forward into an ominous hall of deep red carpet and flickering lights. At the end of the hall a large figure was silhouetted by the dim glow. Her instinct was to charge at the being, her lightsaber blazing, screaming for more blood. But her blood suddenly ran cold as a white form stepped forward with a small, delicate hand outstretched.

He is not our enemy…yet, the soft voice tickled the Acolyte’s mind as her mercurial eyes caught the colourless gaze of the Adept. Juliane flashed the Sephi a distrusting glare, but lowered her weapon for the time being.

Rrogon Skar stepped closer, slowly, and nodded down the hall in the direction of the exit. A general sigh of relief flooded the area as people pushed their way out of the hot room and into the cooler, less claustrophobic hallway.

Tucking the portable power generator into her thick boot for later disposal, Maenaki switched off her datapad and headed back to the turbolift. Her face showed no signs of success or failure as she made her way out of the Phantom Complex and towards the rest of the survivors.

“Did you find anyone else?” Adem’s voice came from just around the corner as he briskly walked toward the Aedile.

“I’m afraid I did.” Maenaki’s ears swiveled as she dropped her gaze to the thick and gaudy carpet. “Those I found were long past my ability to save. Perhaps others made it to another exit…”

A soft sigh escaped her slightly parted lips as she gave the Umbaran a gentle pat on the shoulder on her way past. She stopped suddenly, realizing she had a very angry half-Echani possibly awaiting her around the next bend.

“Adem?” the Seltron asked, turning back to him as a tear ran over her cheek. She flicked it away and lifted her chin as he faced her again.

“Uhm, yes Aedile?”

“I…Is everyone here safe? Or did they all go to the safehouse?” Her brow furrowed and she took a long breath, seeming to stifle a yawn.

“Yes, ma’am. I chose to stay behind. Juliane had a message for you, but—" he paused a long moment, growing uncomfortable.

“It’s alright, darling. I know she’s angry with me. Could you do me a favor? Would you stay here, downstairs, a few hours while I rest? I fear I am not quite used to the same level of excitement and horror you Arconans are and I feel like I could collapse at any moment. Now would not be the best time to get into a verbal debate with the girl…or worse.”

“Most likely worse. There were a lot of threats upon your life, Aedile.”

“Please, darling, call me Mae.” The Aedile smiled, giving a small nod to the Mystic as she rubbed one of her eyes. “Juliane will come around one day. Now, about my favor.”

“I’ll give you a few hours before I report your return, and wait here until you’re ready.”

“Thank you. I will make it up to you whenever you need. For now, I’m going to find a room to retire to. I appreciate your understanding. Qel-Droma is lucky to have you,” she spoke as she walked off, allowing her voice to trail away while opening the door to the nearest room of the currently vacant hotel.

The rest of the Arconans had gathered separately throughout The Shack, discussing where the future would lead them. Many lives had been lost while the Hutt’s forces wreaked havoc on the port and its inhabitants. Although they had won, everyone knew there was no time to breathe or to celebrate. Repairing their home must be the next course of action. Several Qel-Dromans, however, had dismissed this notion and found their way to the nearest empty club or bar still standing to blow off steam. Rrogon Skar had left Ol’val as soon as he could, before he could make a rash mistake, and Juliane glared deeply into a large glass of deep violet liquid, the rage in both people coating their insides with nearly tangible fury.

Civilians slowly came from their homes, exiting into the streets to call out the names of their absent loved ones, fearing the worst. Smouldering rubble, scattered throughout the extended conflict, met them along their paths, and corpses were as common as the sound of mournful weeping. Other people grit their teeth and heaved broken bits of building and mined walls off of the weak and injured survivors they came across.

Maenaki had dismissed Adem and taken a backdoor exit from the Vannacutt, calling Terran on her way.

“We need to meet. I have an update on the Lucine situation.” Her tone was on edge as she stumbled over a set of jagged rocks that had embedded themselves in the street. Her high stilettos were not meant for walking on such terrain and she tripped more than once on her way to one of the other safehouses. She stopped halfway to the decimated Lucky Lekku, having grown aggravated by the inability to find a path less wartorn. Her comm finally crackled to life and she sighed in some semblance of relief.


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

The first rays of sunlight rose over the far horizon and dappled through the trees that lined the streets of Huascar Ring. A caratou whistled in the distance, and the silent Kiffar could imagine its iridescent plumage ruffling in the intermittent breeze. He closed his pale blue eyes, shutting out the view of the Estle City Hospital.

So much death. So much pain. Even now he could feel the echoes of the plague, not just in the hearts and minds of those around him, but as if the city itself grieved for their loss. And his heart, though lightened by the news that the Netti’s mad plan had worked, felt as though it had been haphazardly stitched closed, the wellspring of pain and grief barely held back by the makeshift sutures of their narrowly-won victory. He knew they had triumphed. Whallata was dead. Her forces had been fought back. The tide of plague that had ravaged their system had turned. Yet still durasteel crates filled the street. Cargo containers packed with corpses, death in such numbers that even the incinerators couldn’t keep up. They had to be stored somewhere until they could be burned. Have hope, she had said. This too will pass. It passes even now. And we’ll be the stronger for it. Then she had coughed, and the sound had cut through the room like the Neti’s scalpel through a corpse. None of them had spoken. All of them had wondered. She had smiled her bright, reassuring smile. It had reminded him of his family, and she couldn’t have known how deeply it cut him to see it. We will be. Find that hope in yourselves, else how can we hope to bring it to those we serve?

That had been hours ago, and the young Quaestor had roamed Selen’s silent streets ever since. Capac Ring was near deserted, only a handful of transients and emergency workers roaming the streets. Even now, months after Lorden’s initial assault, half the city’s industrial district still lay in ruins. Efforts had begun to rebuild it, but even in the best of circumstances, such a massive undertaking would take time and resources. There was little of either to spare, these days. Sinchi Ring was, if possible, even worse. Though the buildings stood, and the carry crews had finally finished collecting all the corpses, the streets were entirely empty. Not a light shone through the shopfronts, and in the hour he had spent wandering the circular streets, the only transports he had seen belonged to the city’s civil service. He wasn’t sure of the final death toll, but estimates ranged from 5% to 50% of the city’s population. It was expected that the other islands’ casualties were even worse. Time would tell. Walking those empty streets, though…if someone had told him there had been no survivors, he would have believed it.

So he stood, silent, outside Selen’s largest medical center. His eyes were closed to the world, his mind was open to hope. Perhaps she was right. He had spent so long faking it. Maybe, if she could see a cause for hope, he could find one too. He breathed deeply, as he’d learned so long ago on Susevfi, straining to quiet the maelstrom within. He pictured a thousand leaves, each an emotion, a thought, a memory, tumbling around a tree that was his center. The winds of life and time carried them, whipping them into a frenzy, and he sought to calm that wind and let the leaves fall. His breathing deepened, and the wind grew still. The leaves fell, and he could feel a light rising, in time with the sunlight across his too-pale skin.

Then his commlink chirped, and he swore as he pulled it impatiently from his duster pocket.

He thumbed a button on it, and pursed his lips thoughtfully as his half-Sephi Aedile’s voice tumbled from it. “We need to meet. I have an update on the Lucine situation.”

Pulling a small earbud from another pocket, he pressed a second button to pair it securely with the commlink before placing it within his ear. “Go ahead. This line is secure.”

Maenaki’s normally-composed voice was strained, tired from lack of sleep, but that just meant its usual steel was closer to the surface. “You were right. When she saw the counterattack, she led her little coalition of gangs against Whallata’s forces. They proved an ideal distraction for the main assault.”

Terran allowed himself the briefest of smiles. “As were you, it seems. I hadn’t been sure they would band together under her, or that she could keep them reigned in if they did.”

“She’s nothing if not resourceful,” the Battlelord replied. “I can see why the Consul likes her.”

“How many are left?”

“Enough for our purposes, My Lord. Not enough for their own.”

A small ball of tension eased within the Kiffar’s chest. Maenaki’s plan had been a risk. He had wanted to reach out and stop Lucine from uniting the gangs. A combined force, in the aftermath of Whallata’s destruction, could have proven too strong to root out. Shadow Gate might have defeated the Hutt, just to lose their home to the new coalition. But, as usual, Mae had proved herself reliable.

“Very well. Extend the survivors an invitation on the Blindman’s behalf.”

“And those that refuse?” He thought he could almost hear the corners of his Aedile’s mouth quirk up in anticipation.

“We’ve seen casualties enough in the past few months.” With a resigned sigh, the Quaestor considered the question. Finally, he took a deep breath. “But we’ll see more in a power struggle. We’ve lost too many as it is. If any decline the invitation, give them the shuttle in Docking Bay Gamma and send them packing.”

“My Lord, we haven’t begun repai—”

“I’m aware, Maenaki.”

“Of course, My Lord.”

“And don’t call me—” The commlink clicked off before he could finish, and Terran pocketed it angrily. It had seemed a simple assignment. Infiltrate the smugglers and pirates that operated out of Port Ol’val. Track down his target. Bring her in. In lieu of the bounty on her head, Kravat had offered the first tangible information on his family that the Kiffar had heard in years. Kolot had been sore at the idea of eschewing credits, but Isshwarr had understood, and talked the mercurial Ewok around. That had been nearly two years prior. He couldn’t point to when things had changed. But they had.

With a brief growl, the Kiffar spun on his heel and began the trek back up to the Citadel, the dappled sunlight rising through the leaves just another swirling memory.


Unknown Location
Unknown System

“Let’s call it a partial success.”

The Muun felt apoplectic at Mr. Blue’s words, but he swallowed his irate response and chose his words carefully. “Success? They retain their precious Ol’val and, rather than having been rooted out, it appears this Blindman has consolidated his hold on the shadowport.”

The cloaked figure scoffed at the moniker, then gestured dismissively. “This so-called Blindman is unimportant. Losing Ol’val is a disappointment, to be sure. It would have made an excellent staging area through which to funnel our operatives. But that’s why I have you, Mr. Gray. Logistics. Find us another way to get our forces into Dajorra undetected.”

Undetected. Undetected! Lorden tamped down on his anger. He had come to suspect that his mysterious benefactor had installed equipment that could read his thoughts. And his ever-increasing certainty had made him careful, even in his own mind.

“As you wish, Mr. Blue. I’ll look into a replacement for Ol’val. And the rest of the system?”

Crimson eyes blazed. “Whallata’s secondary objective was successful. Eldar has been ravaged and is all-but abandoned. Selen itself has suffered catastrophic casualties. Our bioengineers estimate a death toll nearing forty percent. They discovered a way to treat the Deathwalker strain, as anticipated, but the citizenry is shaken and panicked.”

Tehr Lorden forced a small smile onto his thin lips. “In other words, they’re primed for when we launch our next attack?”

“My dear Mr. Gray,” the hooded figure chuckled. “It’s already begun.”


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

A young girl stood on the peaked top of a roof.

Her tangle of long, messy, wheat-blonde hair stirred just slightly in the breeze, like even the wind had been sick and was too tired to really bother. The tiles scraped rough and cold and nice under her bare feet, still dampish, still chill. Her stomach dropped into her toes where they curled and gripped at the shingles’ edge and flip-flopped back up to her throat where her little heart hammered.

She could see everything: the empty streets, dotted with big boxes and still shapes, the ten-hundred grayish-washed colors of the roofs and buildings, the silent speeder lanes, and faraway, big black billows of oily smoke. If she stood on her tiptoes she could see the market Mom took them to, over the edge of one of the apartment buildings whose fence she liked to climb. She could even see where Daddy worked.

Ever stared right at it. The Citadel, the castle on the hill. Mother always said, “‘the Citadel will protect us.’”

Ever had never been happier that her mother knew everything, that her mother was right.

The little girl on the roof jumped up and down where she stood and laughed. Her giggles were bell peals in the warming morning light. They filled the air. They rose and popped like bubbles, sparkling and bright. She laughed and laughed and twirled in place and almost tripped and didn’t care when she scraped her elbow because everything was okay. Everything was awesome. Everything was right.

Daddy was coming home.

“Everlily Pele! Everylily! Are you up there? Come down, Everlily!”

The happy, giggling, red-cheeked child tumbled and skipped and danced down to the edge of her home and poked her head over the lip of the tiled roof. Below, her mother’s tired, sunken, softly smiling face stared back, her golden hair and green eyes bright specks of color against the ground.

“I’m watching for Daddy!” shouted down the child. She pointed frantically, waving her arms. “I’m, I’m gonna be the first one ta see him and Lea is gonna be the loser and, and I’ll yell when I see him and then he’ll be home!”

“You know you’re not supposed to be up on the roof, Everylily… But you can watch for your father later, alright? Just this once. I want you to come inside now though. He hasn’t left yet! He’s on the comm and wants to talk to you.”

Gasping, Ever nearly jumped down right from where she was, but thought better of it when her heart about stopped in her chest as she lost her balance. Scrambling, she darted back across the roof and down the side and crashed into the door just to push it open and ran for the comm set into the wall by the door.

The girl skidded to a stop and grabbed at her older brother’s legs as her mother came in the front, shutting the door behind her. She tugged at his pants as he scowled down at her and tried to shake her off, comm still pressed to his ear.

“Yeah, Dad, I love you too. Ye— yeah, I’m listening to Mom, don’t worry. And looking out for Ever. I know. I know. Yeah. I’ll be good, I swear. I love you too. Here she is, okay? Come home soon. Just— please. Yeah. Okay, love you, here, bye,” he was saying, FINALLY extending the device to Ever as she clung to his ankle with both hands and he had to drag her a step or two before she’d let go. “Geez, punk, here—”

She snatched it from him, yelling, “Daddy!” into the piece and smushing it to her cheek. She bounced in place. “Daddydaddydad d-daddy, Daddy! Are you coming home yet? Is you okay? Are you good? Still all better? Where are you it’s almost breakfast Mom said you’d be back—”

“Everylily,” her father’s voice croaked on the other end, hushing her. He still sounded like he had a sore throat. Ever felt bad for him. She hated sore throats the most. “Shhhh, little flower, slow down. I’m fine, I promise you. I’ll be home soon. They just need to discharge me. That means make sure I’m extra super okay and then I get to leave, alright?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

“Now are you being good for your mother and brother?”

“'Course I am.”

“That’s my girl. Can you just be one thing for me too, little flower?”

“Whatever you want, Daddy,” Ever said quickly, seriously, and she meant it.

“Keep being brave for me, sweetling. Alright? Be my big brave girl.”

“I will!” cried the child, lip wobbling. “I-I was, Daddy, I was brave the the whole time. I promise.”

“I know, dear, and I’m so proud of you. It was easy to get better with someone so brave. I love you, okay? I’ll be home soon.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

“Give the comm back to your mother, alright, little one? I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Okay, Daddy.” She obliged, stretching on her toes and handing Mother the communicator. Mother patted her hair and took it, smiling, wiping her eyes. She walked away, speaking too quietly for Ever to hear.

Ever didn’t care. Everything was okay. Daddy would be home soon and she’d get all the hugs and sit with him at dinner and it was all okay and he was alive and and and—

She laughed again. At the table, Lea grinned at her. He looked better too, like Mother did, like Daddy sounded. It had all been Bad Bad Bad, and Daddy had been dead, she was sure of it, but then they’d seen people going outside, and other people knocking on people’s doors, and some people taking people who were really sick and leaving and other people whispered that they’d gone to the castle. The Citadel. And so some of the neighbors helped Mother take Daddy to the Citadel and Lea and Ever had waited and waited and Ever was sure Daddy was dead and his ghost was gone too but then— Then Mother had come home and said it would be okay. Said Daddy was better. And Ever hadn’t believed her but then Daddy had called the first time and it was him, it was him, it was him, it was him, she knew it, she did. And then other people started getting not sick too, better, and it was really okay?

It was really okay.

Excitement buzzing all through her and an uncontrollable smile on her face, Ever spun and darted out the back door, waving at Lea, who just winked at her. She climbed back up to the roof and climbed up to the peak and stood up and stared out at the Citadel and—

Watched, waited, knew: it was okay, it was all okay.

Daddy would be home for dinner.


Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

The cool night breeze ruffled Gren’s muddy hair, and the sweet scent of sasalea blossoms filled the air. They were unique to Selen, and the night-blooming orchids were Delia’s favorite. He paused for a moment, considering picking one to bring home, but then shook his head ruefully. The Citadel had gone through a great deal of effort to plant and cultivate the infamously fickle flowers throughout Estle City, and it seemed somehow wrong to disturb them. Particularly after they had just saved his life. Besides, knowing Everlily she might read into my bringing home her brother’s namesake and not her own. Quirking a smile at the thought of his rambunctious daughter, he made his way through the Citadel’s open gates and down the causeway that led to Huascar Ring.

Lea, always the skeptic, remained unconvinced that the Citadel was responsible for halting the plague. But then, Gren himself had been a skeptic before he met Delia. Raised by spacefaring merchants, there had been little time in his life for fairy tales or mysticism. Besides, in the wake of Emperor Palpatine’s New Order, such beliefs were dangerous. He didn’t know what had eventually led his parents to settle on Selen, but not a day had gone by in the past eighteen years that he wasn’t glad they had. Some men longed for greatness. Some for power. Others for riches. Some, like Gren Pele, just wanted a safe place to raise a family. And in the long years since he first saw her sparkling green eyes, he had come to believe Delia was right. The Citadel provided that.

When blight struck the crops, it was the Citadel that somehow managed to deliver food to the people of Estle City. When the unknown alien invaders had attacked, monstrous creatures of bone and sinew who had destroyed their city’s provincial beauty and turned it into a coral nightmare, it was the Citadel who had protected them, who had led the charge to fight back and reclaim Selen. When plague swept across the system, it was the Citadel, not the government, who found a cure and risked their lives to distribute it. Pele chuckled to himself, and muttered his wife’s oft-repeated catechism. “The Citadel will protect us.”

“Watch where you say that.”

The voice cut through Gren’s reverie and his eyes snapped up, scanning the night. A tall man in a nondescript cloak stood a few meters ahead, blocking Pele’s path.

“What’s that, sir?” asked the engineer, flashing a cautious smile at the man.

The figure gestured towards a park to Pele’s right, where a few hundred people gathered. Gren had seen them from a distance and assumed them to be holding a vigil for the dead. At the head of the crowd, a short, bulky man in drab laborer’s clothes stood behind a makeshift podium, speaking unaided to the crowd.

“That group’s none too friendly to the Citadel. You’ll want to keep those thoughts to yourself until all this blows over.”

Gren paused to listen to the crowd, shaking his head slowly as the rhetoric washed over him. “It’s madness. They brought us food. They cured the plague. They even, I’ve heard, kicked the Hutts out of the system. How can they buy into this propaganda?”

The figure shrugged and smiled sadly. “Some people aren’t looking for reason. They just need someone to blame.” He stepped forward, extending his hand towards Gren. “I’m Varon.”

Pele returned the sad smile and grasped the stranger’s hand. “Gren. Pleasure to meet you. Has this been going on long?”

Varon gestured down the street and resumed walking, lowering his voice as the two passed the increasingly-incensed crowd. “Hard to say. There’s been unrest brewing for some time. Ever since the terrorist attacks. The plague kept people indoors, which helped stall out the budding riots…but now that it’s been beaten, they’re back out in force. There’s even talk that the Citadel started the plague to keep people from gathering.”

Gren’s mouth was half-agape and he had to stop. “That’s insanity. What? They release a plague, kill off half their population - when every able-bodied hand is needed to rebuild - then cure it to look like heroes?”

Varon shrugged again, as if at a loss for words. “Like I said, people aren’t looking for reasons.”

The engineer shook his head in frustration before the pair continued walking in amiable silence. They turned the corner past the park and Varon nodded to a member of the civil defense force as they passed. They continued down the sidewalk, the streetlamps flickering on and off overhead - no doubt a sign of the ongoing repairs to Estle City’s infrastructure. Finally, Gren stopped chewing his lower lip, drew a deep breath and spoke.

“I just don’t understand it. Until recently, Selen has been so peaceful. Almost idyllic. I mean, sure, we have our problems. The occasional drought. That crazy alien invasion. Even the attack from the One Sith last year. But we’re still here. We’re still alive. And it’s not our military, or our civil defense, or even ordinary citizens who keep things going. I’ve lived on Selen for two decades, and every time things get bad, it’s the Citadel who is out in front, working to make things better. I get that they’re secretive, and that makes people suspicious. But so what if they like their privacy? They’re making our world a better place, and they ask nothing in return. And now that they’ve cured the worst pandemic this world has ever seen, people want to riot? It’s not going to happen, not on my watch.”

The father’s voice had raised steadily throughout the speech, and by the end his conviction was unequivocable. Though the lights overhead had flickered off during his speech, his dark eyes burnt with an implacable light of their own. Fists clenched at his side, he turned to his new companion. The figure smiled broadly beneath his light blue eyes, and his too-pale skin nearly gleamed in the moonlight. “You’re absolutely right.”

Gren Pele felt fire pierce his gut, dropping the big man to his knees. The flame wrenched, and his new friend pulled a blade free. He wiped it on his coat, and under the light of the pregnant moon it gleamed too.

“But then, your watch is ended.”

Then Gren felt nothing at all.


Plaintext Version


Ten Months Ago
During the Assault on Nancora

Tehr Lorden caught his hand halfway through scratching his head and jerked it back down angrily. The Muun had worked studiously to curtail his frequent signs of nervousness - especially when dealing with Mr. Blue. Despite the vast distances separating the pair, Lorden was sure now. He didn’t know if it was hidden holocams, or an implant in his mind, or nanodroids his frequent sweeps had missed, but the crimson-eyed bastard always knew when Lorden was nervous. And he didn’t respond well to any sign of weakness.

Suppressing a sigh, Lorden turned away from the datastream flowing across the holoscreen - he’d gladly spend weeks watching and analyzing the ever-growing list of assets spread throughout the Dajorra system - and pulled out his datapad. He called back up the terse communique from Mr. Blue and tapped the address into his comm system. A small burst of static filled the air as the holocomms on either end negotiated encryption, then the display lit up with the blue scanlines of an active transmission.

Even at 1/8th height and transmitted across several sectors, irritation was plain on the Mr. Purple’s hybrid face. The corners of Lorden’s lips turned down in displeasure as well. He may be a distasteful tool, but he’s the tool for the job. The Muun forced his face to impassivity and pulled up the notes on his datapad.

“I assume from the data we are receiving that the insertion was successful?” The Muun spoke in precise, clipped tones.

Mr. Purple’s tones were equally clipped, and, despite his foibles, he spoke with a brevity Lorden could appreciate. “We’re in place, Mr. Gray. The Selenians are hungry, scared, and desperate for someone to blame.”

“And Arcona?”

A feral snarl stalked briefly across the hybrid’s face, but vanished so quickly it could have been imagined. Mr Purple’s words, however, belied the monotony of his voice and gave truth to the rage simmering below Mr. Purple’s reasoned tone. “Those doshing pfassks have taken half their fleet to Force-knows where. By the time they get back, we’ll be so deeply embedded they’ll never pry us loose. They won’t even know we’re here until we sink the vibro-shiv between their ribs.”

The Muun nodded slowly. “What about those they have left behind? They would be fools not to leave at least a few Force-sensitives to keep an eye on local affairs.”

Mr. Purple scoffed in response, his mouth twisting angrily at the suggestion. “Their so-called Shadesworn are a joke. What I have made, I can unmake. Despite their conceits to the contrary, they know nothing of the darkness. But before I’m through, they will…”


Eleven Months Ago
One Month Before the Assault on Nancora

Grief tasted of ashes, seawater and brine, and copious amounts of blueblossoms, everliliess, rojos and lorchads. The vibrant bundles of flowers made the air almost sickly with their airy, heady scent, mixing noxiously with the other smells hanging nearby. Terran breathed shallowly, catching a vague memory of a woman with blooms in her hair on the roof of his mouth with every inhalation.

The floral display was, he’d been told, a favorite on peaceful, blooming Selen. He did not know exactly how many people, from where, had laboured to see these flowers here now; but the red-eyed and hollow-stared mourners seemed grateful for them.

“As we commend your souls to the Force, to the Light of the Stars and the Dark of the Void and the Embrace of Eternity, blessings of the moon and sun upon you, for you are the salt and earth of this land, our beloved…"

Atyiru’s voice was strong and rose over the near-silent congregation. Her copper and silver features were tired with grief, but she stood tall and delivered the last rites of any Selenian with a compassion that hummed deep to his bones. Terran silently hoped for her peace, knowing she was going to carry every death here like she’d caused it with her own hands.

Just as silent was the lie of that hope.

There were, of course, no bodies, and there would be no burial in any family crypts or graves, no ashes consigned to the empty and starlight of space. They’d had to burn every corpse in the mass pits they’d dug, to be sure the plague wouldn’t spread any further while inoculations were delivered. Even those who had died of some other cause at the time — a murder or two, some accidents, an overdose — had been included in the cremation. The risk was too great that the disease could’ve found a home within them.

Thus, they had all come together for this makeshift, heartfelt ceremony.

He broke his vigil over the immense display of personal effects, flowers, and various offerings to various faiths that had been brought by so many survivors; so, so many holos of their dead family members, wives, husbands, children, grandparents, friends, so many trinkets and candles and messages on scraps of flimsiplast. The piecemeal shrine presided over the scene, and Atyiru stood at its head, as far as the citizens were concerned, as the Principal Trustee of the Commonwealth of Selen.

Her speech changed then, as she finished the last of her recitation, pausing before its closing lines. Faces rose from where they’d lowered, some confused, some expectant. What would she say?

“I know now how terrible this is, how nothing can make better our pain or return what we have lost, how deep this wound,” the Consul murmured, clear and quiet but suddenly sharp, like a mountain peak. The crowd rustled around her, the sentence hanging in the air a long, long few heartbeats, silence speaking more for all the dead than anyone still breathing could. Terran felt in the center of his chest a tendril of the Force, light and small and sweet, a caress, and knew that she was reaching out — to him, to them, to every heart and mind here, enfolding them in calm.

“I know,” she went on eventually, turning to sweep her blindfolded face over the assembly, “that here is a sorrow too terrible to name. We are going through that which nothing I say can encompass, that which has no words; we are going through the unimaginable. But here, too, is this truth: we are alive. And we are not alone.”

Her face was so very kind. It was full of true answers and love and heartlight and it made the hope she spoke of seem a tangible thing. Like the free-floating petals around them that tried so hard to cleanse any lingering smog or stench of sickness.

“We are alive and we are not alone,” repeated the robed Miraluka. “I know it is just as unimaginable to hope right now, but though hope is frail, it is hard to kill. And our hope is alive. It is in all of you. We must remember that in the days to come. We must rise each morning and know today is a better dawn than the previous dusk, for we are alive, and we hope, and we stand together. Together, we have withstood the plague that assailed us. Together, we begin rebuilding efforts immediately. Together, we will nurture and reap the new crops soon coming. Together, we will join hands as one and cross this river, overcome this which is unimaginable. The Force is with us all, my friends, my family. We builders, we survivors, we who hope so strongly. The Force is with us all! And we are all with each other.”

Her smile was bright with a better bright beneath, like copper-gilded gold. Terran noticed a few tentative, teary smiles directed back.

“So come, my friends. Come and live with me. With each other. With those who have gone still alive in each of us.”

Bending, Atyiru placed a bundle of green springs before the flames of a brazier at her feet. Then, lifting her arms, she called out one last time.

“Farewell, daughters and sons of Selen. May we soon meet across the stars.”

“Farewell,” the entire congregation echoed, voices mingling, some strong, some scratchy, some bearing the weight of the entire world. Their mournful wish seemed to hang in the air, perhaps trapped by the oppressive flowers and smoke, perhaps so heavy with grief that the words could not reach the next realm.

Atyiru doused the fire. Another crisp mountain breeze whisked away some of the lingering scents, cluttered with flower petals. Silently, in groups and one by one, the gathered witnesses, friends, acquaintances, and various debtors walked away. The Shadow Lady smeared ashes over her delicate cheeks and lowered her head in what had to be prayer, standing there until even the longest lingering had gone.

Terran wondered if he should maybe go shake her, eyeing some of the other Summit members who seemed to be thinking the same, glancing at the prone Miraluka for a cue. Others marched off, Qyreia surly and grieving, Timeros never one to spend more than a necessary second on any task, Kordath probably needing to lie down before the booze did it for him. Zujenia escorted the Ryn inside, while Uji stood away conversing silently with a woman, and Lucine left swiftly as soon as it seemed courtesy was done. But their leader of endless Sunshine and Rainbows…

Other eyes wouldn’t have caught it, but the Kiffar’s did, crystalline and sharp: Atyiru’s shoulders gave a fine tremble, her mile of hair hiding her face. Was she crying? Or doing whatever an eyeless woman did to cry?

He almost went to her.

But then Ishwarr’s heavy, furry paw settled on his shoulder, nudging him along, because of course — he was the one that had argued these people were his responsibility now, that he couldn’t leave them, that he owed them care. He had work to do.

The Quaestor turned away, muttering to his Wookiee companion about her nagging, if only for show. The glint in her warm, caramel eyes told him she knew better, but he wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging it. They climbed up the steep mountain path to the plateau where the Citadel lay, crossed the long bridge. Work to do. Hope to be had, if Atyiru was to be believed.

She didn’t join them inside for a very long while.

Present Day

The monument had been defaced again.

It was nothing new, exactly, not recently. The scrawl was done in cheap paint, and one of the Nightlighters - a weird religious cult that had sprung up after Atyiru’s death - was scrubbing at it furiously, muttering about respect for “Our Lady of the Night.” The Selenian’s fellow zealots, a small enough group to avoid violating the new assembly restrictions, were leaving flowers and talking at the stone and hopefully not leaving any blood behind this time. Terran eyed them a second longer just be to be sure nobody was cutting their hands open.

The smooth, low wall of obsidian rock was full of fine crystal edges that glittered in direct sunlight and made the whole thing almost iridescent during the day. Thousands of names were imprinted on it, row after cramped row, lines of neat, laser-cut Aurebesh. Standing above the wall as she had above the crowd at the memorial was a woman’s figure, smiling and eyeless but otherwise relatively vague in feature; long hair morphed into flowing robes morphed into the edge of the wall as if water flowing to the ground. The obvious parts were her prayer-folded hands and her upturned lips. She watched over the plague and war victims like some shepherd for the dead.

The sculptors hadn’t caught more than a piece of her fire, but it was, admittedly, a pretty fancy piece. He wondered whether or not she’d have hated it.

He had asked her, after the ceremony, not sure why or where the words came from, “Have you ever wondered what they’ll say about you, when you’re gone?”

She had tilted her head towards him, her tapered ear twitching in acknowledgement, her smile soft and secret. Though her expression was perfectly serene, he’d gotten the distinct impression she was laughing at him.

“No, dear, I haven’t. Such a silly thing, don’t you know? It is as I said. No one is ever truly gone.”

The words echoed in his ears, soft as a cricket-song, powerful as an ocean in storm, smashing up against his ribs to the beat of his heart.

Liar, he thought, without venom. He wanted to be angry at her memory, but the truth of it was, she wasn’t gone. She haunted him. Her smile haunted him. It seemed like she haunted all of them.

The Kiffar Proconsul sighed heavily and turned his cool gaze back to the tiered city sprawling out below him. The memorial was a good spot to see from, not so distant as the Citadel tower but nearer to the edge of the Huscar Ring than the plateau — exactly the reason they’d chosen it for the service.

His view was a dismal one. He knew, logically, that it was just his tiredness and mood that made Estle look grayer, but that knowledge didn’t prevent the effect. And it wasn’t any trick of the eyes that things were patently worse - buildings having been burned, others falling into disrepair, more and more graffiti sprayed in the streets while the number of bodies idling in those same walkways increased. Signage now mostly reminded of curfew time and the feeding hall schedule for the day instead of advertising local entertainment. Troops in full kit patrolled in small groups, constantly on alert for signs of simmering violence. Citizens skipped work that either couldn’t pay or couldn’t function and milled about on their stoops and roofs and flung invectives about the heat, about their power still being out, about their rations. Everything was just…hungrier, angrier, crueler.

Just worse.

And they were responsible.


Eleven Months Ago

This is how it goes:

A man who is your father’s friend, not one whose name you remember, comes to your door. He talks to your mother, then he leaves. Your mother calls to you after a very long time. You climb down from where you were waiting to see your father come home. You do not go because she called you but because when she did her voice broke and there are tears there. You go because you know something is wrong. Because she is crying. Your mother tells you, “I’m sorry.” She keeps saying “I’m sorry.” She tells you, “your father passed last night.” She tells you, “I’m so sorry, Lily.”

You say, “what?”


And she says that Topher, the man who is father’s friend told her, and she needed to tell you. That father was found dead in the streets. That he was murdered. Do not know when. He called last night at around nine from the Citadel where he works and then did not get home. He passed. But now he is not in pain. He is better now. Better. I’m sorry.

You do not believe “better” when she keeps saying, “I’m sorry.”

So this is what Everlily does:

She keeps losing time.

Little pockets of it, big swathes. Her head floats while staying grounded. It is not like she goes somewhere else. She stays exactly where she is, but she is not there either. She is not thinking. She can’t focus enough to think. There’s just noise and silence, memories, flashes, then floating, then numb. She spends a lot of the time she does not lose numb. She spends the rest lost.

She remembers: apples. Sitting watching sunsets. Goofy faces, jokes, laughter. His laugh, his smell, scratch of beard. Talking late at night. Games. Reading books together. Speeder rides. ABCs. Him singing her her song, “I love my Everlily, I love my Everlily,” to her locket’s tune. Bits of granola floating in milk, her bowl. Her bowl for her that he gives her. Smile. His mustache. Warm hands, big hands. Big hugs. Hairy chest. Tickles in her nose. Climbing up into his chair with him to nap. He sings. He sings, “I love my Lilybug, I love my Lilybug,” over and over. ABCs. Apples. Cheesy noodles. Forgot her lunch for school once, had dinner ready before she even got home. Music, loud. Speeder lamplights in the night. Smooth rumble. Lets her sit up front with him. She’s copilot. Special. He sings. Makes faces. ABCs, their favorite holo.

She sleeps. She sleeps a lot. When she is awake she loses time and she remembers. She spends lots of time in the bathroom, under hot water — they don’t have a shortage of water. It’s the one thing, Lea says, that they don’t have a shortage of. He teaches her what shortage means. She remembers that, but forgets other things. She sits in the warm wet air and drifts. She hurts.

She keeps thinking she needs to go to her father. He is the one she went to when it was this bad, when it hurt this bad, when it was terrible awful no good very bad never be okay. And he. He made it okay. With his big hugs and tickly mustache. She thinks she needs to call him at work, and he’ll make it okay. But then she remembers: he is the reason she is not okay. He is gone. Her daddy is gone. Her daddy is dead.

Her daddy is gone.

That is how it goes. In waves. Remember, then lost. Remember, then lost. Time is funny and she loses track of that too. Can’t remember things, little things, even things about him. Her mother cries, and Lea leaves a lot. He goes places and when he comes back he talks to her but they’re not his words, they don’t sound like him. He’s learning something too, but it seems worse than whatever Ever is learning. Somewhere inside, it worries Ever. Her big brother is so, so angry. Scary angry. Mother doesn’t stop him though. She says, “he’s grieving, give him time.” She says, “the Citadel will take care of us,” and “there’s a service they’re holding for Daddy and the others tomorrow.”

She says, “I’m sorry.” She says, “I love you, sweetie.”

She says it and Everlily doesn’t care. She thinks, you’re not the one I wanted to live. She hates her mother’s hugs because they are not the ones she wants.

She doesn’t say that, though. She doesn’t say much of anything at all. She sits, and she eats sometimes, when they have food, and she bathes, and she sleeps, and she turns eight years old and does not care.

This is how it goes:

Her daddy is gone.

And she loses time.

Eight Months Ago

Lea keeps coming home angry, and it makes him mean.

He’s shouting at Mom right now, because he’d started talking about something being the Citadel’s fault, and Mom had been saying that he was wrong. Overreacting. Projecting. Whatever those meant. Ever only half-listened, blinking every minute or so at the wall across from where she laid curled on the couch…

“Sasalea, none of this is anyone’s fault. Please, Flower, don’t—”

“Not anyone’s — ? Dad was murdered! OF COURSE IT’S SOMEBODY’S FAULT!”

Mother flinched, but Ever didn’t. The loud noise didn’t bother her. The static crowding in her ears and behind her eyes mellowed it. She fiddled with her Daddy’s locket.

“You’re scaring me,” Mother hissed, pleading. She grabbed his sleeve. “Sasalea, you can’t blame anyone. These things, even your father— it must have happened for a reason. The Stars have a plan, and it was just his…h-his time. The Citadel watches over us.”

“Stop saying that,” growled Lea, pulling away. "You’re just making excuses. You don’t care that Dad is dead. You don’t care about me and Ev. You’re just stupid. Open your eyes, Mom! The Citadel did this.

“You don’t believe that.”

Which part of what he’d said she was rejecting was unclear. Everlily opened and closed her locket, the tiny clasp making a satisfying snick-snick every time she did.

I know it. And you would too if you’d just pull your head out of the clouds and listen to me. Come to one of the rallies. You’ll get it, when you hear. It all makes sense then. It’s the only thing that makes sense. This stuff doesn’t just happen.”

“Yes, it does, Sasalea. People die. It is terrible, but it’s true. No one could have—”

“I could have!” cried her big brother, but he sounded little then, like he was whining. Mad and scary but small too.

Snick-snick, went her locket. Snick-snick, snick-snick, snick-snick, snick-snick—

DAMMIT, EVER, STOP IT!” Lea rounded on her suddenly, just there in front of her in one big stride, snatching the necklace out of her hands. Her fingers stung when the chain pulled through them too fast, scraping. He threw it across the room.

"Sasalea! Do not treat your sister that way!"

“I’m not the one screwing her up! Look at her! She’s karking crazy now and you just keep filling her head with that Citadel crap so she can grow up and get herself killed dreaming about them too!”


“No, I’m done. I’m going out.”

“Sasalea, stop. Don’t go out there. It’s past curfew, it’s— you could be hurt. Like…”

No one needed to finish that sentence. Everlily got up, went to pick up the locket, then sat back down there on the floor and resumed toying with it.

“Go to bed, Mom,” spat Lea, stomping out the front door and slamming it behind him.

Mother cried for a little while, then started moving around, putting away the discarded bits of a thin dinner Lea had left. They had to save everything now, crusts, cores, pits, rinds. She packed it up and then came over to Ever, patted her cheek, tried to talk. After a few minutes, she stopped that and told Ever to go to bed and went to her and Daddy’s room.

Everlily didn’t move. Through the closed door, in the dark, Mother cried.

And Lea went to get angry again.


Eight Months Ago

The tepid, humid, stale night breeze ruffled Sasalea’s wheat-colored hair but did little in the way of providing any relief to the stickiness of his skin. Deep into autumn now, the temperature stayed even throughout the day and night, neither cold nor uncomfortably hot. It was mild and sort of dreamy, like walking in a haze. Perfect weather for being outdoors, for playing games or sports, for strolling or gardening or walking his little sister to school.

Autumn had been his dad’s favorite time of year.

Lea kicked a stone on the ground as hard as he could, hands stuffed in his pockets, watching it skirt and clang away against a gutter pipe. It didn’t help. In fact, it made him want to scream even more. He was just angry.

His chest ached, empty, and every moment he let himself think was just one that felt like choking. Choking on everything. Choking on the autumn air, on his clothes his dad had taken him to buy, on his hair that he’d styled like his dad’s, on Ever’s little lost face, on his mother’s sobs, on how small and needy and stupid he felt every single second. He felt drunk on it half the time. Feverish. And, all the time, without fail, he felt angry.

So. Kriffing. Angry.

Angry at himself, angry at the world, angry at his sister and mother — angry at her especially. He found himself angry at his dad too, burning under his own skin every time he remembered that their father had gone out and hadn’t come back. Why did he get off that easily? Why couldn’t he be here dealing with this just like them? Why wasn’t he the one hurting and failing to be the man of the house? Why couldn’t—

“Dammit,” Lea muttered to himself, clenching his fists in his hair so he wouldn’t hit a wall. That hurt too much and if he busted his hand there was no way they could afford to fix it right now.

Why can’t dad be alive? Why did he leave us?

But that wasn’t a fair thought, and the young man immediately felt guilty for it, something else he felt about as constantly as he felt mad. Their dad hadn’t chosen this. He’d been taken. By them.

“‘The Citadel will protect us?’” Lea mimicked, voice cracking around the attempt at mockery. “Mom, the Citadel is killing us.”

“You’re right.”

The words cut through Lea’ spiraling thoughts and his eyes snapped up. A tall man in a cloak stood a few meters ahead, blocking his path.

“What?” asked the teenager, suspicion and a thrill of fear freezing his spine and stomach. Had they heard him? Were they going to kill him too? In a flash he suddenly felt terrible for yelling at his mother and sister. Everlily couldn’t lose him too—

But the man just gestured up the block the way Lea had been heading, toward the closest park and a crowd gathering there. At the head of the crowd, a couple guys and a woman stood up on the edge of a fountain, yelling out to their audience who cheered back.

“You’re right. And you’re not alone. That group’s none too friendly to the Citadel, too.”

Lea paused to listen to the crowd, then looked back at the stranger, some of his sour fear turning into a kind of excitement. He might have been giddy, face kind of smiling but also scowling, when he said, “You really think so? My mother is so brainwashed by this stuff, even after my dad…”

The figure shrugged and smiled sadly. “Some people aren’t looking for reason. They just need something to believe in, no matter how wrong or contradictory it is or what evidence we show. They’re desperate. It’s self-preservation, honestly. When you believe a lie for too long, the truth doesn’t set you free. It tears you apart.” He stepped forward, extending his hand towards Sasalea. “I’m Varon.”

Lea straightened up to his full height and shook the stranger’s hand. His father was dead, but the manners he’d taught weren’t. “Lea. Great to meet you.”

Varon gestured down the street and resumed walking, raising his voice as the two neared the chanting crowd. “Hard time to be making new friends. They’re trying to keep us from gathering or gaining any movement — the plague to thin us out, and now keeping us under arrest and marching troops through the streets if we dare leave our homes. We’re prisoners to them now that they’ve got our numbers down to manageable levels.”

Lea growled, fists clenching. “What about all that ‘cure’ stuff?”

Varon shrugged again, as if at a loss for words. “Convenient, isn’t it? They help just enough to make those like your mother believe, so they indoctrinate their children in turn.”

“How can people not see this?!”

“Like I said, people aren’t looking for reason.”

They turned the corner past the end of the street, the burned-out street lamps overhead a sign of the damage to Estle City’s infrastructure. They stood at the fringe of the little rally, where they could still speak. So much of what he was saying was everything Lea wished to hear. That he wasn’t crazy, that someone believed him.

Maybe too much like what he wanted to hear.

After a few minutes, the speakers changed, a new group stepping up to voice their concerns. Varon stared at him steadily and kept staring. Finally, Lea stopped chewing his lip, drew a deep breath and asked, “What?”

“You mentioned your father. Did the sickness take him?”

“No,” Lea answered bitterly. “He was murdered.”

Varon frowned. “That is unfortunate. And at such a time…”

“It was the Citadel, I just know it.”

“Come now, Lea. Your family can’t be that important. Why would they target you?”

“My dad worked there! He was on his way home from the Citadel after getting their ‘cure’. He…he probably found something out, or saw something, or…or…it had to be them.”

“Are you certain you don’t just want it to be them? Easier to blame one party for everything. But you should be smart about this. It could have been anyone, and a mugging is a lot more likely in times like these when riots are rampant and people are starving.”

“No, I know it was them. I just know it.”

Varon stared at him for a long time, appraising. Lea felt oddly like he was being taken apart, and rubbed his arms in discomfort. Maybe he shouldn’t be talking to a stranger like this. What if he was with the Citadel too, just being sympathetic to make Lea confess?

“Lea…you said your father worked with them. What was his name?”

“…Da— Gren.”

“Gren Pele?”

Lea froze.

He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t form.
Varon gave a little expression that looked like a grimace and a smile, as if he could read Lea’s mind and the questions unasked. “I knew your father. He was helping me. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you— he spoke so fondly of you and his family.” A shake of the head. “And you’re right. You’re much more right than you know. The Citadel is evil, and when Gren tried to smuggle out proof, they killed him. I tried to prove it years ago and barely escaped with my life. But I’m not going to give up. Not while they control this city, not while they keep getting away with killing those who oppose them. And I’m not alone this time. I’m finding help, like your father, like others. You could help me too, if you wanted. I can tell you so much. I can tell you everything.”

And for once, listening to that offer, Sasalea didn’t feel angry. He didn’t even feel scared or paranoid or crushingly, crushingly guilty.

He felt hope.

“Tell me.”

Present Day

Lea loved this part.

“…so how do they pull all this kark off, and why? It’s because the Citadel…are evil Jedi.”

The looks he got weren’t skeptical. They’re weren’t disbelieving. In fact, they weren’t much at all. Just a little bit wide-eyed, a little more solid with realization. There it was. The pieces all clicking into place inside their heads. It wasn’t a surprise; it was obvious, so obvious.

Of course, the reaction sometimes varied a bit, based on the audience, especially with older people who saw him as too young to be telling them anything; but Lea had gotten pretty good at giving this speech. Varon had him do it all the time now.

Varon trusted him to do it, just like he’d trusted Lea with the truth all those months ago.

He had to struggle not to show any of the pride lighting up his insides and keep a very grave face. This was, after all, important. Entrusted to him. He wouldn’t mess it up.

And this group was ready. They’d been with the Underground — as Varon called them — for a month or so already, had been told about the deliberate food shortages and the plague and the way the Citadel snapped up dissenters and all about the shadow government they had set up by paying off or corrupting members of the Commonwealth. How what happened to the Kadeans on Eldar was all a cover up for their experiments on population control, through mind-altering drugs in the food and daily torture and breeding the people for obedience like chattel, women raped and subdued and men killed once spent. They’d been told all of it and accepted it slowly but surely, seeing more and more evidence of the truth.

There was just the last bit of knowing. Too much knowing, really. It had nearly broken Lea. But Varon…Varon insisted the evil Jedi could still be beaten. He talked like he knew them, divulged their weaknesses and confessed secrets he was ashamed of. He’d told Lea over a drink once, one night when they watched the city sleep restlessly, that he’d done terrible things working for the sorcerers on the mountain, that he regretted it deeply. He’d worried Lea would reject him.

Of course not. They had to make this right. They had to try. And Varon…Varon was good. Even with what he’d done or allowed to happen. Lea’s father had probably been just like Varon, hating what he saw but fearing for his life and family if he stepped out of line. The revelations had shone in a new light every time his dad had come home tired or shaken. No wonder he insisted so much on following Mom’s ridiculous faith. If he didn’t, he’d put them all in danger.

But of course Dad had been too good to let it go forever. Not once they released the plague. And because of that… because of them…

Lea wouldn’t stand by ever again. Not even against terrible witches and gods.

“Aren’t those just stories?” people would ask. Or they’d say, “not here, surely.” Because that’s what the Jedi were. Stories. Tales. Silly old myths, for other people, in other places. Not here, not in Dajorra. Never here.

But the problem was, they weren’t just stories, and everyone knew it. They knew there was a grain of truth there. That once, an order had existed for thousands of years. And it wasn’t just far away, a problem for the Core worlds, anymore. It was here. It was now. It was real.

That realization was the worst part, for most. But Lea talked them through it. Just like Varon had him.

And now here they were, thriving. Lea had brought his best friends in, knowing he could trust them. Then they brought in some of their friends and family. Then neighbors. Then the local shopkeepers, smiths, engineers, factory workers…it just kept growing. Carefully, in fits and spurts, they were gathering their people, forming cells.

They were making a rebellion.

It sent an electric flare of desperate, angry excitement straight to his gut every time Lea thought of it. His mother and sister would be okay. He’d free them. All of them. And then everything would be better.

The young man answered a couple of questions from his newly inducted group, welcoming them to the Underground. After another hour he sent most of them off to get ready to go out that evening, and gave them each a ration pack. They always made sure they got extra rations for their people, extra medicine or supplies to give out to the needy. It was risky, stealing from the Citadel, but it was worth it.

Standing and stretching, Lea went to the little, tiny cooler they kept in the corner and grabbed a bottle of water. He drank greedily, needing to wet his throat after such a long session. He’d never much thought himself a speaker, or a leader, or any of that. It was crazy stuff. But Varon had convinced him otherwise, encouraged him, and Lea trusted Varon.

Rubbing at his eyes as he finished his drink and opened his own rations, he noticed one of the group, a boy around his age with dark, muddy yellow hair and freckles, was sitting in his seat and staring into space.

“Hey,” he called, getting the boy’s attention. “Misha, right? You should hurry up and eat, man, we gotta go soon.” Lea gestured at the ration pack sitting untouched by his elbow.

“Oh.” Misha shook his head. “No, thanks, man. I’m saving mine for my neighbor. Her name’s Mrs. Havesh. She can’t walk to the food halls, y’know? All her grandkids took care of her, always runnin’ around everywhere. But they all got turned, yeah?”

Lea grimaced in sympathy. Stories like that were too common, families abandoned when half or more of them had been turned — slang for those taken by the plague, because they hadn’t just gotten sick. Someone had made them that way. The Citadel had made them that way.

“Here,” Lea said, motioning the fellow over. “We can split mine. Better something than nothing.”

“You don’t hafta do that.”

“Hey, we gotta stick together. We’re brothers now. We’ve gotta look out for each other. C’mon, eat.”

There was a pause of hesitation, but hunger obviously won out over politeness. Misha darted close and voraciously took a bite, and Lea couldn’t blame him. The dried and rehydrated goods or bits of nutrient block weren’t much, but it wasn’t starving, so it tasted like chalky, flavorless gold.

“Thanks,” Misha said around his last mouthful, too soon later.

“Welcome. I usually skip mine too, so my mom and sister can have more.”

“They doing okay?”

“Not really.” Lea frowned hard. His family was…hard to think about. He wondered way too often if maybe he shouldn’t take Ever and just leave, settle with her at his Underground branch, a little clothing store that had been foreclosed months ago. He could take care of her better, and wouldn’t fill her head up with nonsense like their mother did. But they were also all Mom had anymore. He wasn’t sure he could bear taking them from her too. He kept putting it off and just tried his best to bring food and try to get Ever to talk again. He missed her voice. He missed her. But his mom always made him angry again, and then…

“Hey, it’s okay, yeah? We’ll make it better, right?” Misha asked, nudging him out of his sullen reverie. Lea shook himself and mustered up a smirk.

“Yeah, we will.”

They clapped hands, and then Misha went to get ready. Their job today was simple: they were just going to go out to the rallies at Euphoria, Wicked Sister’s, and the Pub. The other cells would tackle other areas of the city. Most days they just went out to try to help people: fixing up homes, delivering food, or getting in contact with relatives who’d been separated, things like that. But they also spent a lot of time watching and listening; watching the movement of the “government” troops and trying to figure out their patterns, to identify who the real politicians were and who was in the Citadel’s pocket, to look for sympathizers they could recruit. It was hard work, but good work.

Lea’s unit included nearly all of his old classmates and running teammates and most of his neighborhood. They were going to change the world. Make it better, just like Varon and his allies - his Shadesworn - said.

The teen relaced his boots then pushed himself up, that scary-angry-excitement coming back. Varon had taught him, and he believed.

With hope and hard work, even the worst empire could be beaten.


Present Day

The ticks drummed in slow metronome.

Timeros was punctual, dutiful and obedient. Whether it was shuffling papers for the Dajorra Intelligence Agency or gutting an enemy with his lightsaber, the machine-like steadiness of the Elder was an integral part of him. Timeros was also accustomed to sacrifice. Every breath he took and every waking moment was permeated with duty to a greater cause. He had known for decades the path his life would take. He would serve loyally, fight efficiently, and someday die for his Clan.

Neither of these qualities assuaged the displacement the Arconae felt just underskin when he looked upon Arcona now. The Brotherhood had become an alien thing, shrinking as it left behind the timeworn Elder and moved beyond his understanding. It was a place of confusion, now, with a thousand rules and restrictions he understood as little more than abstractions, and most of his generation long dead in a dozen fratricidal wars. And the Clan he defined himself by grew ever more foreign.

Because his last proper Consul, his eternally smiling Entar sister, had spent her days supporting a Jedi Clan whose survival required precious resources Arcona needed for itself, before giving her life in an utterly pointless engagement. Because his next Consul was a mundane and an outsider who openly derided her Clan, who spat on Timeros and his fellow title bearers. Because the Consul who came after her, the current Consul, was a weak-willed and weak-minded lech and drunkard who could barely conceive of an ounce of respect towards the Throne he besmirched, a poor excuse for a Force-User and a Shadow Lord both.

Because their clanmates had accepted all of them, and the number of them who knew better, who guarded the Clan even against itself, had dwindled and dwindled. Sashar had challenged Satsi in a fit of impatience and had been defeated. Strategos was content to abstain. Wuntila was in the wind, waging some nameless battle within and without. Rayze was too young to understand what it was his father, Zandro, had fought for. James and Marick had both surpassed him and gone to the Council, enemies and rivals now. Legorii was gone. Teroch was dead for his betrayal. Mejas rotted in his madness. And Atyiru—

Arcona defined Timeros, but Timeros did not seem to match Arcona’s definition any longer. And where, then, did that leave him?

“I needs ya ta look inta these messes.”

He held no regard for the Ryn speaking the words, but in them was a command, and Timeros, above all else, could execute commands. Arcona was slipping away from him, but it still had need of him, and for as long as that truth held, so too did Timeros.

In this, he had a mission. In this, he could still be Timeros, with a foe to fight and a purpose beyond question. It called to him, seductive and exhilarating.

The enemy was here, somewhere. Somewhere in the ruined paradise of the city below. The Elder but needed to find them.

So he went. He collected himself and his arms and what data he deemed necessary and set out to his first destination in Estle’s city proper.

And as he was so bidden, a death would follow.

The warehouse in the Sinchi Ring was modest, having been repurposed into a staging area for supplies, equipment, and medical relief. Still, it had obviously undergone some renovation over the months of its new usage, organized into neat sections for communications, distribution, storage, and gathering, with staff members or volunteers fluttering about the citizens that came to visit.

Timeros’ presence descended upon the room like a curtain made of lead, darkness, and malice. People scattered, the space quickly clearing out with only a few stragglers remaining. After a solid minute of trembling amongst themselves, one of them finally broke into motion, and the Entar was directed by a mousey waif of a Selenian towards the back of the warehouse where the office was located. In truth, it was little larger than a storage closet with a single table-turned-desk, a few chairs, and a holoprojector assembled above to display the city.

The siblings were in said office. The man sat stiffly and intent on his data display. The woman lounged upon the desk face, cleaning a pistol. Both bore marks of exhaustion and stress but glanced up at his entrance.

Timeros spoke without preamble. “I need to speak with Tameike.”

The twins shared a long stare, conversing silently, and then the female unfurled herself from her perch like a sort of feline predator and stepped up in front of the Adept.

“Speakin’,” she replied, eyes narrowed, brow raised. Her arms crossed over her chest, defensive, posturing. She had placed herself deliberately between them.

“Uji Tameike,” Timeros clarified in monotone, not blinking.

“He’s not here right now. Busy.”

The Arconae spent another heartbeat staring over her shoulder at the very man he had come to address before flickering his icy gaze unto her.

“There are matters I must inquire after at the Shadow Lord’s behest. I require your organization’s input before I conduct my investigation.”

“Oh, I’m great at input. What you need?”

“Your staff’s efforts are currently the largest in direct contact with the citizenry. I am in need of information about the populace in sectors sixteen, ten, nine, and five.”

“Real specific there, pretty-eyes. That’s a lot of damn people. How about we take a walk. Show and tell. You are down here to look around too, right?”

“Yes,” answered the Arconae. Then, “I am not proposing a joint effort.”

“Too bad. I’m coming. Any sort of info you need is probably the kind we don’t got, and no one is going to talk to you. At least one of us should be capable of functioning like a frakking living being.”

The ticks sped up marginally. Identified: irritation. But his facial muscles did not so much as twitch. He calculated briefly.

Both Tameikes claimed to have the same information, their telepathic bond strong enough to evidence such results. The woman was difficult but able and would not slow him like her brother would in his lesser physical condition. She had shown herself ruthless and manipulative as a Consul, no matter how undeserving of the Throne. She had even bested Sashar in a lethal duel despite her inability to use the Force.

“We must be discreet, and I will not tolerate any petulance you display. You will be effective or you will be discarded.”

“Fine by me, sugah. I ain’t here to make nice with your robot ass. I’ll grab my gear and we’ll get gone. You got anything more…casual than that?”

She flicked a fan of fingers, indicating his robes. The Elder stared her down until she grimaced, rolling her eyes.

“Right. 'Course not. Well, at least it’s drab. Maybe put away the saber, though.”

He had already intended to do so, but commenced with tucking his weapons out of sight as the woman puttered about gathering a small arsenal all her own and stashing them on various points of her person. His gaze flickered about the rest of the warehouse space as she exchanged some of her clothing for other pieces and stopped to smear dirt on one cheek, under her fingernails.

Timeros returned his clockwork attention to the mundane Tameike only when she approached, the calm metronome of his mind having catalogued all features of the area, weighed them, and found any threats wanting, and had resumed considering his duty. Satsi nodded to him, and he pivoted on his heel.

Just as they proceeded to make their exit, Uji’s cool voice spoke up behind the mismatched pair.

“To be clear, Arconae, my wife goes with you for our interests alone. We owe nothing to Arcona or the Arconae any longer. My debts to Sashar and Atyiru have been paid in blood and service.”

Timeros did not so much as pause, did not turn to blink at or otherwise acknowledge the man. He merely noted the information — the Tameikes had long been on his list of highly probable treasonors — and walked on. The woman called platitudes over her shoulder. The Elder did not bother to listen to them, waiting as his eyes adjusted to the emberant sunlight outside.

“So what’s the job?” Satsi asked, crowding both him and his quietude. He smoothly took a half-step away.

Rather than bother with redundancies, the Arconae extracted his datapad from his robes and offered it to her. She took it with a noise of annoyance. Timeros started down the street, aiming silent footfalls for the nearest gate to the Capac Ring.

They walked in step as he waited for her to finish reading.

“A murder? Why do we care about a murder?” Her tone increased in pitch and stress, conveying disbelief, sarcasm. “We have people for this. This is what the ECSF is for.”

“The Estle City Security Force closed the matter eight months ago as an unresolved case when other incidents became priority. In the four weeks spent investigating, no suspects were found or questioned.”

“So? Too bad for,” her eyes went back to the file, “Gren Pele. Kark happens.”

“Atyiru had earmarked the incident for me to investigate before we moved on Nancora.”

“We’re doing her a frakking favor a year later?”

“No. Such sentiment would be pointless. We are investigating as ordered because there have been four more murders of the same description in the last three weeks.”

“Let me guess, in the sectors you mentioned, or near enough.”


The woman resumed reading, silent and concentrated for several minutes. Then she started muttering to herself. “So four new murders; and the original, as far as we know, was Pele. So that’s five. Sad frakkers are all unrelated, but killed in public areas, no witnesses, and in a similar way. Cause of death is usually stabbing, but there’s also…maiming? Maiming both before and after death, it varies. Man, I’ve done better than this. Guy either wants the attention or is sloppy as hell. I’m thinking the former since it’s been like this for all of 'em.”

Timeros realized she had moved to speaking at him at some point and focused a piece of his attention on her words.

“The most recent was Peeka Gesh in sector five but the one before that, Farr Dulusu, was found in nine. Well we’re…” she paused, stood up on her toes, squinting about and shading her eyes, “yeah, almost to Secondhand Jane’s, so edge of eight. Nine is all shops and storage, residential starts in eight. If somebody was killed there, they probably lived here. Let’s hit up the plaza on Helo and 30th where the kitchen is at and then we can work around the neighborhood.”

“Very well.”

“Chatty as ever, Arconae.”

Timeros did not reply, merely adjusting his course in the direction she indicated without breaking stride. The kitchen, as Tameike labeled it, was one of the several public feeding halls the Clan had funded in recent months. There were many people present. The Adept’s mind and eyes both spun in countless revolutions, taking in all they could, searching for anything unusual or dangerous.

“Shadows above,” Satsi swore, watching the mundanes move away from his approach unconsciously. “You stay way, way over there. I’m gonna work the crowd. You just… Watch, or go into low power mode, or whatever the hell it is you do.”

The mundane wandered off, making some circuit that only made sense to her. She circled as if shopping and watched several groups and individuals before finally striding up to a couple.

They spoke, and Timeros observed. She leaned forward as the others talked, displaying interest, but did not loom. Nonthreatening. Engaging. Her gestures were unnecessary, causal and extremely often. To convey sloppiness? Nervousness? No, the targets lost tension at them, repeated some of them. Another ingratiating tactic. Just like changing her accent and words. Make herself similar to them.

The ticks slowed.

She was executing her programming. This, he could understand. It was like the bladework and blood built into his hands, the bone-deep loyalty beat into whatever remained of his personality. He had observed works like hers in his many decades, the best disguises being those that were poured out of the heart rather than painted on the face. Satsi Tameike became a shadow in her own mind, and her complicated lies were a new identity’s truth.

He wondered, briefly, what it was to reinvent oneself so many times and still find a way back. He had long ago ripped out his heart and set Arcona as a lodestone in its place. Without it he was broken. Useless. Nothing. The Tameike woman though, this insignificant creature, seemed to function by breaking.

Curious. Curious but unimportant.

“Nobody I talked to knew the guy personally, but they know people’ve been getting killed,” confided Satsi when she returned to his side after a time, shedding skin as did a snake and resuming her own, or whichever vestment of herself she consistently presented to him. “Crowd’s buzzing about it. They’re saying to stick together in groups, not go near the aid stations or guards, kark like that. Say the Citadel is murdering people who talk back. Do we know if any of our dead guys was arrested recently?”

“None had criminal activity on their records. However, data gathering has been lax of late. The majority of curfew violations or assembly warnings go unreported. Our stance has been soft.”

“Helpful. Well, we ain’t killing the protestors, right?”

It was not an accusation, merely a question.


“Somebody is.”

The Arconae did not deign to reply. He left the building and began walking again, foot traffic flowing around him like a river bent to a jut of stone midstream. Satsi grimaced at the small, invisible boundary around them, and so he made a conscious effort to dampen his presence, drawing the Force’s dark tempest tight to his skin where it pulsed like a living thing.

“Couple of frakking kids told me there’s another rally tonight, outside Euphoria. Idiots getting caught up in all this.”

“Did they speak of any leaders to the movement?”

“Doesn’t really seem like a movement. Just a bunch of people getting mad and shouting about it.”

“It is a movement,” Timeros droned, “or a pattern would not be present. We will attend and assess the speakers, then ascertain whether or not any of our victims were known to them.”

“They’re not just gonna tell us.”

“They will.”

She stared at him, then shrugged. “It’s supposedly late, probably so people got time to sneak out after curfew. We’ll be waiting awhile. Somewhere inconspicuous,” she added, as if expecting the Entar to stall unmoving in the middle of the road for many hours.

“We will reconvene at this point at sundown.”

With that, Timeros blinked and pivoted, movements clockwork, and strode away. Tameike trotted after him, making to grab at his arm. He side-stepped in staccato stop-motion, settling her with a frigid stare.


“What are you going to do?”

“Observe. Examine the scenes of the murders. Search out my target.”

“Shadows. Just don’t go scaring anybody off. You really want to find whoever has this thing going, we best lay low, wait for them to show.”

“Inaction is inadvisable. I was instructed to prevent any further victimizations if possible while eliminating the threat.”

“And who’s to say it was possible? You sparkies can basically sense death, right? So we just…arrive a little too late, and catch our guy then. But that won’t happen if they get spooked by you dancing all over the frakking place.”

The Elder appraised her silently, then tipped his chin in acknowledgement.

“We will wait. Tonight. If they have not revealed themselves by the morning, then I will drive them out.”


Timeros’ mind ticked steadily on.

And they waited.


Present Day

The public feeding halls that had been opened before the war were overrun. Most had fallen into disuse or disrepair in the months the Clan had been gone, the buildings raided for any scrap of food when no one came to restock the shelves or open the doors. It had been a top priority after Nancora to re-establish the shelter kitchens — up until other matters…replaced them in priority.

Now, they had managed to resupply and restaff, and had even lured distrustful crowds back in with warm food and medicine, but it simply wasn’t enough. Every day they ran out early and had to turn away long lines of hungry people; children, families.

Tali Sroka sighed in soft dismay, her golden eyes watering ato the the gaunt face of a young boy with his mother. She gave him a smile as she knelt down and placed a snug hat on his head while behind them his parent gathered what portion she could for them both.

The boy gave her a cheerful little grin back, tugging in the extensions of his cap where normally lekku would sit. The Twi’lek had brought another donation box of lekwear from Les Lekku et Vous today. Across the street, Threader’s Place was offering discounted sales on their already cheap stock, the gruff and, in Tali’s opinion, scary proprietor outside speaking with his fellow citizens in surprisingly commiserating tones.

“Vell, there you go, little one. Nice andt varm.”

The Arconan valiantly ignored that it was desperately hot outside, hot and humid enough for a miasma of sorts to hang around the factories that were still able to run. This was all she could do.

“You talk funny,” giggled the boy, grabbing her fingers to play with. She tickled him, and his mother gave the tiredest of smiles.

“Jab, don’t be rude,” the woman sighed, coming to gather her youngling. Tali stood too.

“It’s no trouble, ma’am, don’t vorry,” the violet alien assured. “Please, be safe.”

“We will,” replied the mother, though her gaze spoke of deep worry and fear. She clutched her meager tray tighter. “Come on, Jab. Let’s eat.”

“Yay,” said Jab. “I’m sooo hungry.”

Tali watched the pair go to sit at the bolted down communal tables and then turned back to the food lines with another sigh. Behind the hot line counter, Luka, with their kind, quiet eyes, and Blithe, a Pantoran from Galeres who the Qel-Dromans were working with today, flicked a sympathetic grimace at her and offered up another bowl of watery soup to a needy Selenian.

It was the best any of them could do.


Present Day

The light of Selen’s bright white star slowly gave way to her single, solemn moon, staining the sky in hazy bands of tropical violet and gold almost too vivid to be real. Soon, it would sink below the horizon where endless ocean met open air, and the colors would bleed to black and die, as did the light in caught prey’s eyes.

“We have things well in order here. Stay there to lend assistance where it is more needed.”

The Chiss’ voice held no real warmth or concern for the needy he spoke of, despite his false expression of sympathy. The tiny hologram disappeared a moment later as Voidbreaker’s leader bid her goodbyes and sighed.

“Looks like we’ve got another shift yet. Stay sharp, boys and girls,” the petite Pantoran said to the group.

Grot scented the air and hissed in displeasure, reptilian eyes blazing orange and flickering with multiple sets of lenses. He shifted next to his Zeltron underling, Lucifer Romanov.

“I am never unsharpened,” replied the other Battleteam captain, and Leeadra gave a small snort, aiming a finger at him as one might a pistol.

“Don’t make me come up there, big gut. You will regret it. Now, look, Lucy and me will go over to the market and send the shoppers home, you all can get the bars, yeah?”

Grot flared his nostrils to snap a response, but Kelviin gave a loud, good-natured roar and made the finger-weapon gesture back at Leeadra. The two laughed.

Other sentients were so strange.

Their group split, and the Trandoshan began lumbering down the road towards the closest cantina full of desperate, stinking mammals. Rulvak ghosted along behind him while the Wookiee continued to chatter. It grated.

They spent perhaps an hour directing or removing patrons from their stools or booths in various establishments about Sinchi Ring. It was nearing dusk by the time they finished; the lockdown would soon be in effect. And yet the streets were not yet deserted. Spotting some loitering Humans whose age and gender he could not immediately place, Grot growled and approached.

“You there! Leave!” yipped the hunter, drawing the attention of the group. They quickly began to stink of perspiration and fear-anger-fight-run.

“You should get home. Curfew is coming up,” Rulvak Qurroc explained coolly, emerald eyes chill. The assassin and intelligence officer normally preferred not to deal with people, but since they had split from Leeadra Halcyon and Lucifer Romanov earlier, spokesmanship fell to him as much as possible.

“It’s not even late yet!” protested a boy, and Grot flicked his tongue, tasting the air. “We’re not doing anything.”

“It will be late by the time you reach your destination. Better that you move now. Please,” Rulvak pressed.

“You’re just trying to bully us.”

The Sephi hybrid sighed, “I am trying to corral you. Now go.”

[PLEASE VERY MUCH AND THANK YOU], added Kelviin in the mechanical tones of his datapad speaker.

“You don’t tell us what to do! You’re not even security,” shot back one of the youths, fists curling at his sides in the familiar fashion of drawing a…

“Weapon!” growled the Trandoshan, swiftly pulling his newly-issued blaster pistol and firing. The stun bolt slammed into the male and crumpled him.

The commlink he had drawn lolled from his slack fingers.

“Tyz!” gasped some of his fellows, rushing forward to grab at him. A girl shrieked nearby.

“Gggrrooow,” Kelviin spoke as gently but urgently as he could, trying to calm, but to ill effect. The Wookiee had been brought for his renowned kindness and previous appointment as a diplomat, but all the citizens seemed to see in that moment were two beasts attacking them, their compatriots forgotten.

Some people shouted curses and insults, some spit and cried at their inhumanity, but Grot didn’t care about them. He could not spare even a moment for these nerfs, for at the back of the crowd he could already see the nexu circling. Packs of them, with angry eyes and grim expressions, the scars of wounded pride clearly written on their faces. Young men. Strong men. Desperate men.

From around the corner, Leeadra came running, golden eyes alert and aghast. “What’s going on?” the Pantoran sprite gasped, her lilac braid flying behind her as she threw her small self between the enforcers and the citizens. Lucifer jogged up behind her, already with his weapons drawn.

It was doomed. As soon as they saw others approaching, the young man’s friends went into a panic over their downed brother. One of them screamed and pointed at Lucifer while the other shouted, “THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL US! HELP!”

Punches were thrown, though who started it couldn’t be said. Things became a blur of confusion and raucousness. Shouting went up, more bodies came from the shops and sidewalks and homes, more shots went off. Even non-lethal, the violence was like a match lighting dry tinder. Before the Arconans could truly regroup or think, they were surrounded, bodies pressing in around them in a mess of flailing limbs and torn voices. The rioters weren’t even focused on them; it seemed the blame had spread and so ensured an all out brawl that quickly turned its anger on the military vehicles and then the storefronts. And blame, Grot knew, spread unchecked, was just like fire.

Everything it touched, it burned.


Present Day

Her head was warm, her skin was soaked. The moon still hung bright and swollen against the stars, the night so black that the darkness hummed. It smelled out here, though it hadn’t always, and it had never gotten as bad as Coruscant’s undercity streets. They had tasted perpetually of heavy spice, factory smog, wet charcoal, feces, piss, fetid oil, and rotting flesh from where rat-gnawed bodies wasted away in a garbage heap half-full of droid parts.

For awhile, last year, Estle had smelled like sick and smoke. Now it just smelled like sweaty summer skin and desperation, which was a flavor all its own. The occasional breeze would’ve been nice if it’d come down off the mountain behind the Citadel, but the wind was hot and rolling off the ocean and then over the city, so it just pushed more of the stench inward.

I could be home right now, Satsi thought tiredly, rolling her shoulders and stretching her legs. A full afternoon and evening of unplanned mingling was taxing, but she felt like she had a good grip on the crowd around her, at least. She’d even made some new “friends” with a couple Selenian housewives and another set of dockworkers antsy for a fight, but had parted from both groups before they got to memorizing her face. One of the dockmen, though, had confirmed the earlier rumblings; they had the right location for this particular get together.

Euphoria seemed to support the movement, or at least the opportunity to sell drinks; apparently pints were half price tonight. It showed in the sway of the press of bodies and looseness of lips, voices raised in rancor that would have been too anxious otherwise. Many remained cognizant though, and she observed the protestors stringently whether they were wasted or sober. The participants all varied in stature and apparent wealth, but leaned heavily more male than female, and seemed to be of an age ranging from young adults to middle-age; there were, thankfully, no children, and only a handful of graying seniors.

Things were pretty unfocused, with multiple speakers standing up just about whereever they pleased and shouting out their thoughts, often times over one another. After about an hour of this, some of the more clear-headed present tried to narrow their efforts, directing everybody’s haphazard attention to the edge of the warehouse lot closest to the neon glow of the club.

A man took his turn up on some stacked crates beside the wall and started shouting passionate rhetoric.

“My people! My friends! You all know why we’re here…it’s up to us to hold this government accountable, to make sure they hold the Citadel accountable. Selen isn’t just part of the Confederacy, it’s its own…and maybe it’s time to leave if the Confederacy has grown so corrupt and lazy!”

Satsi listened with an unconscious piece of her mind as her thoughts turned elsewhere, eyes scanning the street and all its denizens and blemishes. She spotted more potential weapons than she liked, but it was mostly equipment that peaceful builders like the Selenians would have: servodrivers, a hammer in a belt loop, what was probably just a kitchen knife sheathed in a pants pocket like the completely hopeless civilian its owner probably was.

Still, she resisted grimacing and said, “What did we ever do to deserve this?” as a young woman beside her made eye contact while bemoaning the food troubles. Her comment garnered more fuel for the little cluster’s ranting, and she moved on easily after just a minute or two of angry grumbling to fit in.

The crowd shifted again, and Satsi stepped swiftly to change her position, so she could better see.


Movement caught her eye. Specific movement, out of place for its fluidity among the slump-spined and tight-shouldered Selenians.

She changed direction again, slowed her gait, put her back towards the nearest building in case she needed to retreat. Her eyes flickered away from her target only long enough to confirm Timeros was still idling near the edge of the gathering like they’d planned, then fixed them directly back on the man she’d seen.

He was tall, large. Cloaked, so she couldn’t see his features to determine if he was a local or not. But the way he moved, that told her plenty, set off every warning instinct ingrained in her steel spine.

“…the Citadel is at the heart of the corruption that has infected our communities and brought pain and death to our families and they do nothing about it. We must do something about it. We have to protect each other and our freedoms. We can’t let them walk all over us…”

Most people would say one couldn’t tell a Jedi just by looking at him, but most people were wrong. It was the way they carried themselves, the way they moved, recognizable the second one saw them. Confident. A sense of self-satisfaction. An assuredness. The grace about them was unnatural, and as natural as breathing, their power in every motion of their limbs, inherent and unquestionable. It was as if they couldn’t quite hide that they weren’t quite mortal anymore. Only the ones very aware and very dedicated ever got good enough at obfuscating their grace to pass as normal people.

“Him, there,” Satsi murmured aloud, just low enough for the Elder to hear her with his enhanced ears, flicking her gaze at the strange, hulking figure. “He’s a Force User.”

“Yes,” Timeros intoned, suddenly right next to her, nearly making her leap from her skin. His nearness, his presence, was an uncomfortable, frigid intrusion that made her shoulders lock, but she fought past it with years of ingrained training alone and relaxed her muscles to lean towards him. She thought, for a moment, she saw a flicker of surprise in those winter pale eyes. But when she looked again his expression was still as unmoving as a monolith. Right. Of course. Sparkies. He had probably sensed the other man long before they’d even gotten to the bloody square.

The supposed-Jedi moved again, and Satsi moved after him, her lurch easy and discreet, equally ready to take him down with a tackle or tail him leisurely.

“Do not follow.”

The scarred woman stopped in place as her target disappeared behind some more bodies, even his tall frame lost in the crowd and the dark. The directive had not just been a whisper, but laced with just enough of the Force to bend her will slightly. She hissed through her teeth, wanting to spit and scream and dig the Arconae’s presence out of her skull with her bare hands then wrap her fingers around his pale throat.

But she had a job to finish and a kid with a fever to get home to, to make soup for, and this kark was dangerous, clearly dangerous, so all she could do was snap, “What, why?” under her breath and wait for an answer. Better an Elder in her corner than in her way.

“I am going. Stay here. Watch,” was the Adept’s stunted command, and then he was brushing off and away on soundless steps, too fast for the eye to really follow. It was a strange thing, trying to stare after him, like her eyes couldn’t quite focus even though he wasn’t going all invisible with the Force like some of them could. She realized belatedly that her chest was constricted, that other people moved out of his way automatically, even as they listened to the current speaker.

Fear was an excellent device to keep people from noticing too much. She hated him for it, but marveled all the same.

Resigned as she lost sight of Timeros too, the mercenary shook herself and tried to relax, to meld back into the crowd so she could slip out. If the Elder wasn’t on the outside of this mess, then she needed to be.

The speakers changed again as Satsi nudged through the press of bodies, and this one, whoever he was, was much angrier. He made spirited, vicious calls to action that really got the crowd’s attention, and soon she was being jostled and shoved just because of how many present were shaking their fists in the air, shouting hoarsely back for violence. Oh, for Shadow’s sakes… she thought, gritting her teeth. She had hoped they’d have a calmer evening and not a lynch mob.

Bruised, the scarred woman finally disengaged from the congregation, earning herself more than a few glares from those at the back. She knew what those looks meant — traitor, weakling, pet. The citizens were getting so desperate and so bitterly enraged lately that anyone who wasn’t as angry as they were became an enemy. Why don’t you stay? those glares asked. Are you on their side?

Satsi glared right back at them, this time dropping a hand to her belt knife to make it obvious. This keyed up for blood, they’d only understand a threat in reply.

The faces grew angrier, but they also turned away with a few curses and some spitting in her direction. They went back to cheering on their red-faced orator.

Shaking her head, the gangster took a moment to breathe in the sudden spaciousness, glad to be free of the press of bodies. She wondered where Timeros and the mystery man had gone, and if the Arconae had noticed any of the patterns he was looking for, and if maybe they’d caught the guy before any more corpses dropped by some rare stroke of dumb luck…

An awful noise filled the air, a woman’s scream, down the street somewhere.

Her mind went blank, thoughts washed away in white noise as the shriek she focused on came with echoes of flailing hands, a sense of panic and pain. She saw in her mind’s eye a round face, a young face, her daughter’s face — the face that she pictured any time she was near some source of distress these days. Her pulse kicked into overdrive, and her blood went pounding, screaming through her veins.

It was half-instinct that spun her on her heel, sprinting in the direction of the noise with empty hands. She ran down into darkness, the lights dead from one outage or another for whole blocks, making the night pervasive where Euphoria’s neon didn’t reach.
Her post-traumatic stress episodes had turned into some sort of crime-fighting stint ever since they returned to Estle. It was why she helped Uji with the community, why she organized her gang and kept down others. It seemed she couldn’t stand to ignore anyone’s pitiful, quiet sobs or pained screams anymore as they were raped or stabbed in an cantina alley. She just had to stop it.

Still, though, she had presence of mind, and it was only half instinct. As the former Fade neared where she thought the shout had originated, still listening to the rally boiling over a street or two behind her, she drew her dagger from her belt and a tiny emergency glowrod too. Her pace slowed, and she made an effort to make her approach quiet, gritting her teeth every time her boots crunched on dirt or litter. There was no telling what she was about to find.

Creeping along, she passed by a burnt-out speeder and another warehouse, knowing she was near the edge of Capac Ring. A few people passed by and she tensed at each one, but they all kept going without noticing her, just more idealistic or irascible youths escaping curfew to head for the meeting. She watched them go safely then kept moving, coming up on a thoroughfare that was more of an alley between two buildings.

Just there. Shapes caught her eye, familiar ones: bodies. Of what kind or state she couldn’t say, but all the angles were right. Her brown eyes narrowed, skin tight and hackles raised, peering closer at them and knowing something was very wrong.

“What the fra…” Satsi whispered, raising her glowrod higher as she drew near.

The small pool of light illuminated a sickly scene, a pair of kids, couldn’t be more than their late teens, lying at unnatural angles in splashes of red that looked shiny and black in the lamp’s glow. She knelt quick to check the boy’s pulse and found he…didn’t have a throat left to check. Her fingertips touched chin and then went right to vertebrae.

Definitely dead, then.

The girl, though, she twitched and rattled at Satsi’s approach, and the Arconan went quickly to her with a curse.

“Hey, hey,” she whispered to the Selenian, moving closer and squinting to examine her, for what little good she might do — she should’ve commed someone at the Citadel for help already, commed Timeros, anyone. Reaching for her communicator became a distant concern though as she got a good look at the damage.

What sort of thing left wounds like that? A virboknuckler? A blade? No, no…they were large teeth marks. They littered her body and her blood pooled in the deeper bites. Her leg was lame, the pink-tinged milky white of a twitching tendon visible where it was bared over bone. She wheezed and shook, vacant eyes glassed with fear and pain.

Satsi felt a curl of rage flare in her gut, even as she sighed and relaxed in resignation. No way would this kid make it to any kind of treatment, if they could even spare any of their limited bacta supply for some civvie. Shaking her head, she raised her knife to end the pain.

A chill crawled over her spine, sharp in the heat. She looked up. Saw new eyes watching her.

I’m not alone out here.

The figure was hulking, tall but obviously hefty beneath his cloak, body warped and twisted unnaturally in some places as if there were extra bones or muscles where there shouldn’t have been. The glimpse she caught of his too-pale visage was narrow, with high cheekbones and incandescent blue eyes much too large for his face.

The creature lunged.

She turned and ran.

The cobbles disappeared under her feet. Her stomach surged up her throat, and then she was crashing back to the ground, sharp white noise splitting her vision. Her flesh dragged on bits of gravel and detritus, leaving behind small flaps of bloody skin, and she felt a tooth swimming in her spit-flooded mouth as she pushed up onto her feet with legs and arms that she couldn’t feel. The numbness of impact still rang down her bones but she had to move.

Shadows, but she really, really, really was tired of getting thrown around by sparkies.

Her thoughts spun, fast but sluggish, caught between adrenaline and trauma. Fight here or make a break for the crowd?

The decision was made for her when another telekinetic blow hammered into her gut and left her flat on her back, gasping up at the black, black sky. Satsi choked on nothing, unable to draw a breath, and gagged as footsteps approached and a slow, reedy chuckle rumbled from her opponent.

Craning her neck around, the mercenary spat her mouthful of blood and mucus, pulled her gun out of the holster at her boot, and fired off three rounds that crack, crack, cracked in quick succession. The strain made her joints whimper but she swallowed the ache and rolled over, climbing back upright and aiming again.

All her blind shots had missed, but this time she could see. The muzzle flashed and the air shattered with noise again, while her assailant jerked unnaturally to the right then left, faster than her eye could follow. The clip of eight was empty in just a moment, and Satsi hissed.

Frakking. Force-users.

The man caught her pause and leapt forward with sudden speed. She backpedalled, reaching for her second pistol instead of trying to reload the first. She didn’t even yank it out of its holster, just threw herself backwards in a roll and fired right off her hip when the gun pointed his way. He jerked again, but this time it was with the momentum of a slug round, and he yowled in pain.

Satsi was about to fire again when a blinding eruption of amethyst fire flooded her field of vision and made her cry out. Heartbeats later, another agonized warble came from somewhere in front of her, then retreating steps and a whisper of cloth in pursuit. She rubbed fiercely at her abused eyes, watching through spots of phantom color as none other than Timeros chased the cloaked man like some monster out of a holobook, his lightsaber a glowing scythe in his hand.

They both went vaulting onto rooftops and she lost sight of them. Again. Without any warning.

“Ugh,” groaned the woman, slumping down and holding her abdomen tight. Her ribs were cracked, she could feel, and her cuts stung. “Bastards.”

After a second to regain her breath, she forced herself up to search for her dropped blade and glowrod. Once shed collected them, reloaded her guns, and checked on the bodies — the girl was dead now too — she finally headed back towards Euphoria. The glow of neon lights would at least be more to her advantage.

However, as she grew nearer, she realized the rally had surpassed an uproar and moved on to full blown anarchy. Maybe it was because of the speakers, or her gunshots, but the crowd had obviously been spooked. They were all busy pushing each other along and marching towards the inner city, various weapons or tools raised and screams calling for blood. There was fighting happening right there in the lot. Someone threw a bottle through one of the club’s windows, and then it was a race to see who could break the most glass first.

Maybe not the best place to be, then.

Satsi stopped in her tracks and let herself sag against a flickering lamppost. She needed to wrap her ribs. She needed to get back to the Citadel where it was fortified for kark like this. She needed to call Uji and tell him to take Samantha and the ship and get the hell off planet just in case. She needed—

“He has escaped.”

“HOLY FRAKKING HUTTSLIME—” the mercenary shrieked, and this time she did jump. She rounded on the Arconae with a grunt of pain for her poor ribcage. “Stop doing that.”


“Sneaking up on me!”

“It would behoove you to be more alert.”

Satsi’s inarticulate noises of rage didn’t seem to count as as a reply.

“He is gone,” Timeros repeated. “The situation has degraded. We ought to return to the Citadel to recoup and organize a battalion.”

"How did you lose him twice?!" snapped the woman. “Are you frakking kidding me?!”

“No. He is disguising his Force Signature. I cannot detect him.”

“What about before?”

“I sensed nothing of him then. Your observation revealed him to me.”

“Oh, great,” Satsi groaned. Bad enough when it was people on her side that could do sithspit like this, but an enemy? One good enough to completely evade not only the other sparkies all over this city, but Timeros too? They were so kriffed.

“Not particularly. The glimpse I detected, however, was familiar. I will search the archives and speak to my brethren.”

“I got a look at him, but not a good one. Definitely a User. And he killed two more.”

“Hm. Come. We need to move.” His expression was a blank page, his words as flat as a page. “Will your injuries allow you to keep pace?”

There wasn’t concern there, just pure, clinical pragmatism. Satsi nodded.

“I’m fine. Let’s go.”


Present Day

Kordath Bleu tossed back his third caf and grimaced, coughing at the burn. It wasn’t quite like downing a drink, made his throat sore, but at least he didn’t have to taste the bitterness as much. Blue light from his datapad screen washed out the bloodshot red of his eyes and highlighted the bags underneath, the worry lines of his face and droop of his brows. The door to the office flickered open, and he glanced across the broad desk that he hadn’t bothered to make his own — still marked with the knife carvings Satsi had left behind, Atty’s things stuffed into the drawers like bad memories — and squinted as his gaze adjusted to something that wasn’t words on a datapad.

It was reports. It was always reports. Lists of damages and casualties from the security forces at work in Estle City, putting down crime and trying to maintain some form of order. Food shortages, labor issues, infrastructure in desperate need of repair after fires and plague had left things an absolute mess. A mess that had festered like an open sore with them gone so many months and chasing their tails to get the Collective. Since they’d gotten back from Nancora and then Canto Bight, Arconans had been actively working down in the city to correct things. Escorting food and aid shipments, policing ration stations, relocating people, rebuilding homes, finding lost loved ones, putting out literal fires. They’d also had to do things like defend shipments from desperate people and break up skirmishes, which had spawned bouts of violence assuaged by police intervention.

People were still starving, and not everyone was keen on trusting the aid centers that had sprung up despite the Tameikes’ highly organized and aggressive efforts. They’d enlisted various contacts, including criminal elements like smugglers and gangs, to shore up the work where bodies were lacking due to the stretch of resources being spread so thin. At least Ol’Val was doing alright thanks to Zuji, Rhylance, Lucine’s efforts: the port was all but rebuilt, especially with its shiny new Obsidian Marketplace, they had the Blindman in control again — yay. But Selen….was less good.

“My Lord?”

“What now, Bly? Is the blasted Arconae back yet?” the Consul answered, not even trying at this point to get the clone commander to stop throwing titles around. He rubbed at his eyes, wishing he’d gotten more than a few winks, but he had awoken before dawn that morning with a deep sense of dread in his stomach and bones, a sharp shout and a painfully familiar flash of a white braid yanking him from sleep. There hadn’t been anyone else there in his lonely quarters though, and he’d checked with the guards outside and his Skitters units; nobody’d seen or heard anything. It was just bleedin’ night terrors.

Had to be.

“Alert has come in about another riot."

“Again?” muttered Kordath wearily. These things were a nightly — and sometimes daily — occurrence now, though usually it was just groups of folk protesting or venting their frustrations with some angry shouting. Very angry shouting. Actual tussling broke out maybe half the time, but was usually over quick, just folk riled up and pissed about the wet summer heat and their conditions and woes.

Hard to say if it had gotten worse or better since they’d implemented a curfew and started limiting the number of people allowed to gather at a given time. That had been on the advice of his many advisors. He didn’t imagine it’d help.

Bly continued, "Sprang up just now, but it’s already spreading from sectors six and nine in Capac to ten and five in Sinchi, and we’re estimating it’ll grow before we can get enough troops down to subdue. It’s bad, sir. Requesting use of force.”

“The people nae are that violent, now is they?”

“We have casualties, sir. It is a full-blown uprising this time.”

Kordath’s throat tightened. “Dammit. Any dead?”

“Not that we can tell…yet.”

“Then send out tha…whoever deals with this. Wake up Qyreia and bloody Skar. Get them on it. And get Spectre Cell deployed to tha front of it, they’ll move faster than tha uniforms. Wake up Rhylance too. Just wake up everybody.”

“And use of force, sir?”

“Ya keep sayin’ that, Bly, doesn’t mean nothin’ ta me.”

The commander grimaced, but only delicately. He was unflappable after having dealt with so many…diverse…Consuls.

“It means the extent to which we can respond, sir. Lady Entar often forbade it outside wartime conditions. Lady Tameike ordered the release of arms for warning and defensive purposes with the citizenry, lethal if necessary in regards to special conditions.”

“So yer askin’ me if we’re killin’ our own folk or not.”

“Such is the burden of the Throne, sir.”

“Ahh, shove yer bloody burden.” The Ryn clenched his eyes shut, breath whistling out his fluted nose in a pained breath. He still hadn’t opened them when he replied, “Tha boys can have their weapons but I want stun equipment only. People get karkin’ stupid when they start shootin’.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

It was going to be one long damned night.