Star Wars: Mysteries of the Force – Ch 1

Being “Captain Alyi’wensha” had always been a mark of pride. “Padawan Wensha” on the other hand was something Ayli was struggling to come to terms with.

“I’m not a child. I can do ‘sitting quietly’. But this is going on three hours and I’m starting to wonder how much of this is training and how much was your former masters just needing a break from a bunch of toddlers,” she said without descending to the floor of the empty adobe room she was hovering in the center of.

Kelda flickered into view in front of her, just as translucently blue as ever, wearing her usual jedi robes and an unusually amused grin.

“I’d say you were just like Ravas, except her record for this exercise was twelve minutes as a Padawan.”

“Wait, she got to be a Jedi and she only had to do twelve minutes of this?” Ayli asked, refusing to give into the growing temptation to let herself flop down onto the floor. Her irritation bolstered her resolve and made the load of lifting herself three feet into the air lighter than ever. At least until she exhaled away the motes of anger that were gathering in her.

Channeling the Force wasn’t hard. Once she’d felt how to do it, it was almost more challenging not to reach out to it. The real trick was learning how to use the Force without drawing it through her negative emotions. 

Hate, fear, sorrow. Those were powerful tools for her, and so, so very easy to use in calling on the power that flowed around her. For most sapients, a punch backed by rage drew on their bodies reserves with far less limitations than one thrown with a calm heart. Drawing on the Force wasn’t exactly the same but it was definitely possible to drink much deeper of it when anger removed your ability to care about the repercussions. 

Ayli had come dangerously close to losing all sense of self to that a year earlier when she’d been pushed to the limits of her anger and fear. Faced with an unbeatable foe, and confronted with a fate worse than death, she’d been willing to cast away everything she was in order to save the woman she loved.

Despair isn’t typically a solid emotional state to make wise decisions from, but she had unlocked a tremendous amount of power when she’d decided to burn her future to ash, and at the time that had seemed like her best choice.

It hadn’t been.

Not even a little.

“As tests go, I think you’ve passed this one,” Kelda said. 

“This was a test?”

“Everything is,” Kelda said. “Float quietly for three hours? Test of your skill with Force. Test of your ability to focus. Test of your ability to sit in a place of calm serenity.”

“Doesn’t seem like a terribly fair test,” Ayli said. “I know plenty of people who can’t sit still for more than twelve seconds, much less twelve minutes or multiple hours.”

“Indeed. When I started I lost focus around three minutes into the exercise,” Kelda said. “Ravas was up to around six minutes then, so you can imagine how gracious she was in her victory.”

“She literally never let you live that down until you finally beat her did she?” Ayli kept herself floating but bobbled a bit with the laughter she was suppressing.

“And then she sulked. For days. Oh stars that was such much worse,” Kelda said.

“Your old masters seem like they were jerks for pitting you against each other like that,” Ayli said.

“Oh, they had no idea what we were up to,” Kelda said. “Well, looking back with adult eyes, I’m sure they could tell how competitive we were. They certainly didn’t judge us by the results of the tests though.”

“Why bother with testing you then?” Ayli asked. As a Rebellion brat, the people around her had tested her constantly. Was she quick enough to get out of sight when a Storm Trooper appeared? Could she handle a blaster without blowing off her own appendages? Could she hit a target at the end of an alley. From a rooftop? From two feet away when they were helpless to resist? Could she hotwire a speeder before it’s owner found her? Could she disarm security cuffs? Or arm a ship breaching bomb? On and on, so many tests to see if they could rely on her in a crisis, and, she had to admit, to teach her what she could do if things went wrong.

And things went wrong a lot.

For all the glory the Rebellion gained after their victory, the truth of it was that most of its members weren’t great heroes. They were normal, desperate, terrified people who, being people, were just as deeply, deeply stupid as everyone else in the galaxy. The average Rebellion operation succeeded largely due to the few decent bits of planning that people didn’t manage to screw up and the lucky breaks they got from the inevitable screw ups of their Imperial opposition (who being people too were also deeply, deeply stupid).

“Tests can serve many purposes,” Kelda said. “Padawan tests aren’t meant to reject or diminish the learners but rather illuminate the areas where they’ll benefit from instruction the most.”

“The tests I’m familiar with are ones that you don’t necessarily get to walk away from,” Ayli said.

“Those sorts of tests our master never subjected us too,” Kelda said. “Not even the test for Knighthood, which was our graduation of sorts, came with that sort of penalty.”

“So they weren’t jerks after all then?” Ayli said, unable to fully brush aside the worm of jealousy that nipped into her at the thought.

“Oh, some of them were,” Kelda said. “Our training was focused on many things but making us pleasant and sociable was certainly not one of them.”

“That seems odd for a group of people who were trying to avoid negative emotions at all costs,” Ayli said.

She and Kelda had worked together for months. Initially Kelda had been as reserved as Ayli had expected a Jedi Master would be. Very focused on discussing how the Jedi viewed the Force, and what the “Jedi-way” was for training in its various uses.

That had been good since it was about all Ayli could initially handle. After her experiences on Praxis Mar, she’d been tempted to swear off ever touching the Force again. With the memory of raging out of control and blasting everything with Force Lightning, rejecting the Force had seemed like the safest option, for herself and for everyone around her. 

Nix hadn’t pushed her on that. She had simply started her own training early enough each morning that when Ayli woke up it was to the sight of her wife softly and slowly dancing through a series of katas meant to harmonize mind and body together. 

It had taken a week before Ayli felt like joining her, and two week more before she admitted to herself that she could feel the flow of the Force as Nix passed it to her in their dance and drew it back as she stepped away.

Ayli’s negotiations with her fears had been a step-by-step process from there, first admitting that she enjoyed feeling the Force as it simply moved through her, to embracing the energy the katas generated to help throw off the fuzziness of sleep, to finally admitting that the parts of the dance Nix added where they spun into the air and danced on the wind were too delightful to not draw on the Force to join her in.

From there she’d (somewhat grudgingly) started her training proper.

She’d imagined she would train with Ravas, since between the former-Jedi and the former-Darkside user, Ayli was sure which of the two she was more closely aligned with. That would have been a disaster though, and Ayli was fairly certain everyone knew it, so it wasn’t terribly surprising when Kelda had begun showing her how to the Jedi used the Force.

Simple explanations of the Jedi’s philosophy and tenets have given way to steadily more in depth accounts of what it had been like to train with other Padawan’s from as early as Kelda could remember.

Most especially with Ravas.

How the two of them hadn’t seen they were desperately in love with one another while they were together boggled Ayli’s mind. Granted, she had been somewhat obtuse about how her feelings for Nix had grown, but in her defense, she and Nix had started out with a drunken affair, gotten married and then fallen truly in love in the space of less than a month. A month during which they’d been haunted by a Dark Side ghost (Ravas), passed several grueling tests, and discovered a fabled city (which was also haunted). 

In Kelda and Ravas’ case, they’d been together for years. Pining, fighting, comforting, fighting some more, until, finally, the tenets of the Jedi order had finally broken them apart for the rest of their natural lives.

That they’d managed to hold on across the centuries until they could enjoy an unnatural life together was a testament to something, though Ayli wasn’t sure if it was a sign of great love, great idiocy, or both.

“The Jedi weren’t about avoiding emotions,” Kelda said. “Or, not the ones who grasped the distinction between ‘not being controlled by your emotions’ and ‘not feeling them’.”

“I can see where that’s difficult when you’re fighting for your lives all the time,” Ayli said, thinking back to how often her anger had pulled her through situations where her fears would have frozen her into fatal inaction.

“We weren’t though,” Kelda said. “The time when Ravas and I lived was generally peaceful. As a Knight, I sought out trouble, but in most cases I was able to arrive early enough that a conflict could be resolved before the lightsabers came out.”

“Was that a you thing or did all of the Knights do that?” Ayli asked, wondering as she did how much the Force would expect her to toss herself into danger once she had a better handle on it.

“It wasn’t uncommon for the Jedi to act as roaming peace keepers,” Kelda said. “With the Force to guide us, we were able to find problems and resolve them that others had overlooked. Plenty of Jedi followed other paths too though. Many had no stomach for conflict and focused on building and sustaining instead. Our archives were once among the most comprehensive in the galaxy, and the support networks we coordinated gave whole worlds voluntary access to the resources of the galaxy.”

“So what happened? How did all that come crashing down? I mean there’s, what, a handful of Jedi left in the galaxy now?” Ayli asked, not at all bitter that the failure of the Jedi seemed to have been the precursor to the Empire taking over.

“Well, I was dead for most of it, so I can’t say for sure,” Kelda said. “If I had to guess though, I would imagine it was a case of complacency backed by a calcification of following the letter of the tenets and not their spirit. That could have been all it took for the selfish who sought power to successfully target them and bring them low.”

“Shouldn’t the Jedi have sensed that though?” Ayli asked. To her the future was an unreadable blur, but she knew that others were able to feel where it was flowing far better than she was.

“Selfishness, cruelty, greed, everything we’d label as part of ‘the Dark Side’ involves twisting to see only inside yourself. You become all that matters, and other people cease to be people at all. They become ‘the Other’ who you lose all connection to,” Kelda said. “People like that may still have immense support from backers who have a similar lack of compassion, but they’re an abyss. They give nothing back, existing only to consume more and more. It’s possible to detect what they’re doing by the effects they have on those they trample under their feet, but their lack of real connection to others can make them hard to perceive in the Force. Couple that with the patience to strike when the Jedi were weak and even just one evil man would have been enough to unmake a democracy which stood for generations.”

“That’s pretty depressing,” Ayli said. “Like nothing we build will ever really last.”

“It won’t,” Kelda said. “Everything changes, but that doesn’t mean everything is doomed.”

“Standing on this side of history, I have to admit it’s not easy to believe that,” Ayli said, allowing herself to be honest mostly because Kelda had never once scolded her for saying things like that.

“Perhaps another vantage point might be helpful then,” Kelda said. “Let’s take a little trip.”


“The Shadowed Cave,” Kelda said.

Ayli squeaked. 

The Shadowed Cave was the one place she wasn’t supposed to go on their island training home. It was the one place on the island where the Dark Side pooled. The one place she would again be tempted like she was on Praxis Mar.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Bonus Ch 4

Across the still cooling volcanic stone, a man tattered robes walked. The air was poison and the sky still choked with ash, but death and darkness walked beside the man rather than pursuing him.

They didn’t have to pursue him. Not when they’d caught him so long ago.

“Sapient life signs detected within twenty yoms ahead and thirteen yoms below the surface,” the Survery Drone which hovered above the man’s shoulder said, indicating a spot in the churned up ground ahead of them.

Paralus Stahl regarded the spot, reaching out with his senses to pinpoint the life the drone SRV0 had found. 

Detecting one life on a barren world would have been easy anywhere other than Praxis Mar. By rights the Force in the only living beings on the planet should have stood out like a star shining in a empty sky, but Praxis Mar was special.

A skilled practitioner could use the Dark Side to cloak their thoughts, their plans, and even their presence. It took effort, effort Paralus found irritating at best and dangerously distracting otherwise, but not on Praxis Mar.

Hiding came so easy on the dead world, that even Paralus’ mastery of the Dark Side was barely enough for him to pick up the small cluster of sapients who’d been buried when the buried when the land quaked so badly that giant sections of it flipped over and buried the old surface deep underground. 

Barely enough was still sufficient though and for these sapients that would suffice.

Lifting his hand, Paralus forced his fatigue into annoyance and fanned the flames of that into the anger which in turn gave him the strength to lift the intact remnant of a fallen starship from its earthen tomb.

He waited a moment after setting the ship down, feeling the Beast of Praxis Mar stirring at his command over the power which only the Beast held dominion over.

They were two of a kind, the Beast and he, which in the Dark Side made them the deadliest of enemies.

The Beast had deeper worries than Paralus though. It had roused itself from a millenia long slumber when someone had introduced a plague to it. One single, tiny voice had spoken and an idea had been shared. A dream of the future given to the spirits trapped in Praxis Mar’s endlessly gravity well of hate. A hope in hell.

It would not stand.

To corrupt a world as pure as the masterpiece that was Praxis Mar was an unforgivable transgression against that which was incapable of forgiveness in any form.

For the time being however, the Plague of Hope served Paralus’ needs quite well. Let the Beast roar or flee or try as it would to encyst the whisper among the damned spirits. It would have success or it would not, but either scenario would not reach its resolution before Paralus had obtained what he desired.

“What happened? Was it another earthquake?” the speaker was one of several who’d exited the fallen starship.

Paralus stepped into the shadow of the Dark Side with no effort at all, leaving only SRV0 behind. With his senses expanded, he was still able to sense the life of those he’d ‘rescued’, paltry though it was, and hear their words both spoken and implied.

“That didn’t feel like an earthquake,” their leader said.

He was different from the rest in only one aspect. Of them all his mind was the most twisted by hate and fear. The fool wasn’t strong in the Dark Side because he could conceive of nothing of value outside of himself.

“Because it wasn’t,” Paralus said, stepping out of the shadows between the small group and the remains of the ship which had sheltered them through a cataclysmic upheaval.

“Who are you?” one of the men said, a blaster in his hand faster than any of his comrades.

Paralus was no longer one who could be harmed by blaster fire, but he took the weapon from the man’s hand anyways, removing the illusion of authority conveyed by the weapon lest the conversation they were about to have proceed from the wrong basis.

A second, slower, member of the small party drew his blaster in response to Paralus’ taking the first man’s blaster.

So Paralus shot him.

He could have made it a wounding shot.

Could easily have simply disabled the man, and if Paralus had any intention of allowing any of them to survive there might have been a reason for him too.

But the people before him were all dead men walking. 

One of them would leave of course. Whichever seemed to fit Paralus’ needs best. Whether it would be accurate to say that unlucky soul would be ‘alive’ was a matter of debate though.

With a freshly produced corpse however there were other possibilities.

Before the man’s spirit could join with the great flow of the Force, Paralus reached out and caught hold of it. The spirit was weak, debased by a life teetering on the edge of the Dark Side without committing to the hunger for carnage it possessed beyond the occasional acts of cruelty which it hadn’t been afraid it would be caught and punished for.

It was an unworthy offering at best and an insult at worst, but Paralus offered the spirit to the great maelstrom at the heart of Praxis Mar. With the Plague spreading despite the Beast’s efforts, the planet could not refuse the first infusion of new pain and suffering it had received in centuries.

Another man, slower and dimmer than the rest had drawn his pistol while Paralus had been busy offering the first corpse’s spirit to Praxus Mar. The man’s courage carried him the precipice of pointing a deadly weapon at a foe, but hadn’t leaped him past the point of hesitation to where he could fire it.

Seeing that a more profound demonstration was in order, Paralus pulled the man himself forward, grasping the man by the throat when he came in reach.

Paralus could have drawn from the near endless well of horror Praxis Mar offered but with the planet struggling already that would have ill suited his aims. Instead he dumped a few of his own select nightmares into the man he held aloft at arm’s length.

It was a technique which carried substantial risks, but only if the victim was able to overcome the terror the nightmares held. The man in Paralus’ clutches had delighted in inflicting terror too much to deny its power and that opening allowed far too much of Paralus’s power to crash into him, destroying the man’s mental defenses and his mind with them. With nothing left in him to resist, the man’s body followed next, shriveling up into a wasted husk as the Dark Side consumed everything within him.

“Shall we continue?” Paralus asked, fully prepared for the extent of entire company’s self preservation instinct to prove to be the equal of one of the rocks which lay around them.

“What are you?” the leader of the group asked, gesturing his minions to stay back and keep their weapons holstered.

“An excellent question,” Paralus said. “And one I shall not be giving you the answer to.”

“What do you want then?” Darsus Klex asked. Paralus read the man’s name and recent memories out of idle curiosity and to confirm his suspicions that Klex would be the most suitable host candidate of the men present.

“One of you,” Paralus said.

“For what?” Darsus asked.

“To serve me,” Paralus said. There was no point in lying and playing with his victims was one of the few entertainments Paralus had left.

“The Klex Cartel serves no one but its own.” Darsus seemed to think this was an inviolate rule of the universe, though Paralus could hear in Darsus’s words the true undercurrent that the Klex Cartel really only served  Darsus himself.

“Useful,” Paralus observed to no one except himself. “Having a Cartel would be a new treat.”

“You ain’t having anything you freak wizard,” one of the other men said.

Paralus considered killing him as well, but the joy of that wore off quickly. Also presenting all of the spirits to the planet at once would yield a better bounty. So the man got to live. For at least a few moments longer.

“You don’t know where you’re standing, do you?” Paralus asked.

“Praxis Mar,” Darsus said.

“An answer but an incomplete one,” Paralus said. “Can you not feel the despair which chokes this world. The millenia old, unending hatred still bound in its soil and sky? Are none of you the least bit aware of the potential which lies beneath your feet?”

“We saw the potential this place has when it tore itself apart and swallowed our ship,” Darsus said. “Is that why you want us to serve you? Because you can control that stuff if we help you? That’s fine, but what’s in it for me?”

It was the question of someone who was deeply confused. Someone who didn’t understand the danger which was wrapped around them. Someone who thought they could trick themselves out of the fate which awaited them solely because they were obviously the center of the galaxy.

Someone who was sufficiently twisted up into themselves that they would make, if not the perfect host, an eminently suitable one.

“Power,” Paralus said. “Or a miserable death. Depending on your point of view.”

“I’ll serve you,” one of the other minions said.

Paralus ignored him. All that one had was fear, which would have been useful enough in a pinch but Paralus had been called to Praxis Mar but a gaping need in the Dark Side and by the opportunity it represented. He wasn’t about to settle for ‘useful enough’, not when there was so much work to be done, and people who might be worth destroying for a change.

“None of you matter,” he said and with a wave of his hand dispatched the chaff, breaking each of the necks as easily their gurgles and death rattles broke the silence of the empty world.

Darsus Klex began to retreat then, even his monumental self absorption yielding to the obvious fate which awaited him if he stayed.

Of course on a dead planet, there really was nowhere for him to retreat to.

Paralus stepped into the shadows and appeared in front of the fleeing Klex.

“Submit,” Paralus said.

“Go to hell,” Darsus said.

“Where do you think we are?” Paralus said.

“I said go to hell!” Darsus finally pulled his blaster and Paralus let him fire it, each bolt passing harmless through Paralus’ ghostly body.

“You wish to leave,” Paralus said. “Submit.”

“You’re not going to kill me,” Darsus said.

“No. I am not,” Paralus said. “I don’t have to.”

“I’ll make it out here.”

“No. You won’t. Your fleet is gone. Your family destroyed. You have fallen and you will die in failure and ignominy. In a day you will be forgotten, lost in the emptiness of the galaxy, unmourned, and bound here forever as all who die here are.”

“No.” There was no certainty and no defiance in Darsus’s voice, only the last desperate dregs of disbelief.

“You will leave behind those who did this to you. Wensha. They will suffer no vengeance at your hands and their lives will be peaceful and rich, with no thoughts for you except laughter in the odd moments they tell the stories of the Cartel they cast into ruin.”

“No,” Darsus said though in his eyes was the growing belief in Paralus’ words.

“No?” Paralus asked. “That is not how you wish things to be?”

“No,” Darsus said, anger mixing with acceptance to produce exactly the terrible resolve Paralus required.

“Then submit,” Paralus said. “And together we shall rise and burn the stars themselves to undo the makings of the ones who were here. The ones who sinned against you.”

With eyes alight with soul destroying rage, Darsus Klex reached forth his hand to become something far darker than he’d ever imagined.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Bonus Ch 3

Kelda knew she wasn’t supposed to follow Ravas. Not out beyond the Temple’s security perimeter. Not into the Howling Wilds. Given their history in fact ‘not anywhere’ would probably have been a good rule to live by.

The funny thing was, Kelda was usually all about following the rules. The Jedi had a lot of rules, but the rules were there to make things better. Following the rules was how you found harmony, and harmony made you stronger at using the Force.

At least that was how it was supposed to be.

It was true that the more Kelda behaved as the Masters taught her too, the less worried she was and the easier of a time she had reaching out to the Force. The other padawans felt the same too. 

Or they said they did.

Most of them.

But not Ravas. 

So why did Kelda always follow where Ravas led?

“Come on, hurry up,” Ravas said, turning around and noticing how far behind Kelda has fallen.

“We’re pretty far out here,” Kelda said, calculating whether there was any chance they’d make it back to their dorm room before light’s out.

“I know! That’s why I was able to find this,” Ravas said. “I don’t think anyone comes out this far.”

“If we go much further, we won’t make it back in time,” Kelda said.

Ravas tilted her head and dropped her hands to her hips.

“You’re worried about getting back?” she asked. “You haven’t even seen it yet though!”

“I don’t know what ‘it’ is!” Kelda said, letting a very un-Jedi-like note of exasperation show in her voice.

“That’s because you’ve got to see it for yourself!” Ravas said and turned to continue leading them onwards.

“But couldn’t we come tomorrow?” Kelda asked. “If we left earlier we’d have plenty of time to get there and back.”

When Ravas turned again, the scowl on her face was set hard as stone.

“If you don’t want to go with me, you can head back,” she said, her voice flat with barely concealed anger.

“No!” Kelda said, uncomfortable not with Ravas’ anger but with the disappointment that lay beneath it.

She and Ravas had been angry at each before. They’d had brutal and mean-spirited fights, each one instigating one squabble or the other until they’d learned to control their emotions. Kelda was better at that than Ravas was, and they both knew it, which should have meant that Kelda would be the one who was stronger in the Force. 

Except that she wasn’t.

When they tested their powers against each other – something they weren’t supposed to do, but even Kelda had been willing to bend that rule to satisfy her curiosity – they’d always come out as equals.

Kelda suspected that was because Ravas was holding back. There always seemed to be something in her best friend that Ravas was restraining. Some well of power that Ravas could choose to draw on but which she refused to, maybe because she knew how important the Force was to Kelda and she didn’t want to upstage Kelda too much?

That couldn’t be true though. Kelda didn’t want it to be true.

People thought Ravas was a bad student. There were whispers that she was going to fail the tests to become a Knight when it was time to take them. That definitely couldn’t happen though. Ravas was too good a Jedi, and too good a person, to be passed over. 

Some of the whispers were jealousy. The Padawan’s who judged themselves solely by their proficiency with the Force were rarely ever happy with the test results that showed Ravas at the top of their class.

Kelda didn’t worry about that though. Her concerns were rooted in the constant disciplinary actions Ravas invited onto herself. 

The whispers that Ravas was a bad influence weren’t true either, but Kelda could see that more people than just the padawan’s bought into it.

“No! I’m coming,” Kelda said, an old and familiar resolution filling her soul that Ravas would have at least one person who was in her corner.


Both her resolution and her concerns blew away in the winds of forgetfulness when she saw what Ravas had been so excited to show her.

“Can you believe this is still here!” Ravas said pointing down into the chasm before them.

The chasm in which a crashed but still fairly intact starfighter lay.

 A Sith starfighter.

Half of Kelda recoiled at the thought of being so near a tool of the ancient enemy of Jedi. It was the weaker half through because the parts of her which were enthralled by sleek ship’s design wanted nothing more than to climb down and inspect it closer.

“So, still want to go back?” Ravas asked, a smug smile gracing her stupidly perfect lips.

“Shut up,” Kelda said. “You could have told me, you jerk.”

“And spoil the surprise?” By which Ravas really meant spoil her own enjoyment at watching how shocked and flustered Kelda was.

“I could have brought tools, climbing gear,” Kelda said. “How are we supposed to check it out like this?”

“Well, we’d have to get closer I guess?” Ravas said, stepping to the edge and holding one foot over it into the empty air beyond.

“No. Don’t you do it,” Kelda said, more from reflex than any hope she might be able to talk Ravas out of what was a demonstrably terrible idea.

“You know, you say ‘No’ an awful lot,” Ravas said. “You should try thinking positively once in a while.”

And with that she stepped out over the chasm and plummeted.

Kelda didn’t need to waste any time.

She’d known what was coming.

And she’d known what she was going to need to do.

Ravas was about five meters from the top of the Sith Fighter before Kelda was able to grab hold of her with the Force and lower her gently down on top of it.

“I could have done that myself!” Ravas called out.

Which was true. But Kelda wasn’t going to leave Rava’s fate up to chance, or worse, Ravas’ sense of ‘dramatic timing’. 

Kelda stepped into the chasm intent on breaking her own fall with the Force in a non-dramatic manner, but before she dropped more than her own height, Ravas had caught her and lowered her slowly onto the Sith Fighter as well.

“Getting back up is going to be worse,” Kelda said as she touched down.

“Not if we can get this thing to fly again,” Ravas said.

Kelda pinched the bridge of her nose.

Neither of them knew how to fly any spaceships, much less a Star Fighter, much less a SITH Star Fighter. That was a problem for the Kelda of some distant and unforeseeable point in future though. A future that was likely to roll around in less than an hour, admittedly, but a lot could happen in an hour.

“What makes you think it will even power up?” Kelda asked. “It’s probably been down here for a million years of something.”

“It would be rust and dust if it had been here for a million years,” Ravas said. “Plus I don’t think they made ships like this a million years ago.”

“They definitely don’t make them like this anymore,” Kelda said. She expected the ship to feel twisted and evil in the Force, but her senses weren’t giving her any sign of that.

The craft under her feet was a tool. Plain and simple. It might have been created to murder Jedi, it might have even successfully murdered a whole bunch of Jedi, but that was in the past. All that remained was metal and wiring and space for two young Padawans to sit inside it.

“You know if we come back in this, there is zero chance they would let us keep it,” Kelda said.

“Yeah, I’m not stupid,” Ravas said.

“You jumped into a chasm with no way back up,” Kelda teased her.

“You jumped after me,” Ravas counter-teased.

“Oh course,” Kelda said. “Where else would I be?”

Ravas scoffed at that and looked away, “Now who’s the stupid one?”

Kelda felt a little thrill of delight at having flustered Ravas. It wasn’t easy to do, and it required just the right moment of honesty to do it, but Ravas’ reactions were wonderful to see.

“How did you find this?” Kelda asked, changing the subject before it drifted towards topics that their instructors would have called ‘improper attachments’.

“They have detailed scans of the whole area from when the Temple was being converted to a school,” Ravas said. “This thing showed up as an ‘exposed metal deposit’, which sounded cool, but not as cool as this!”

“Where did you find scans of this place?” Kelda asked, reasonably sure she did not want to know the answer.

“In the archives.” Ravas’ blaise tone was one she only adopted when she was admitting something that would definitely get her in trouble.

“Our archives?” Kelda asked.

“Well, I mean, they’re part of the Temple, so they should be ours,” Ravas said.

Kelda groaned.

“You were sneaking around in the Secure Archives? Ravas! How did you even get in there?”

“It wasn’t hard. For Secure Archives, they’re not terribly secure.”

“Oh, we are going to get into so much trouble for this!”

“No we won’t,” Ravas said, based as far as Kelda could tell on wishful thinking and vague hopes.

“They’ll expel you!” Kelda said, naming the worse thing in the world she could imagine happening.

“No. They won’t,” Ravas said. “If we get caught, we can say that I needed to clear my head and meditate and that you followed after me to make sure I was safe. They don’t need to know about the archives. We can say we just stumbled on this without knowing it was here.”

“But they’ll know that’s a lie,” Kelda said.

“It’s not,” Ravas said. “That’s how I found out that there was a Star Fighter here.”

“Wait, when did you sneak out here? We were together all of yesterday?” Kelda said. Which was true every day, and just as things should be.

“It was last night,” Ravas said, strangely more silent than she should have been.

“Last night? After light’s out?” Kelda asked, struggling to piece together a timeline that would make sense.

“Yeah,” Ravas said. “I needed to meditate.”

Ravas never needed to meditate.

Kelda had wondered if the Zabrak people were incapable of it but the other Zabrak padawan who joined their class was so serene while meditating that he would start spontaneously floating.

So Ravas couldn’t have needed to meditate.

Except she wasn’t lying.

Kelda was certain of that, and the Force confirmed it.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Kelda asked, worried at the sudden distance she felt from best friend. “I would have come with you.”

“I…uh, I didn’t want you to get in trouble,” Ravas said.

Which was a huge lie.

Ravas delighted in getting Kelda into trouble.

It was one of the central tenets of their friendship.

“Come on! I would have gone with you,” Kelda said, her brain short circuiting at the thought of Ravas leaving her behind.

“It was late, and you were already asleep, and we had the training run coming up in the morning, and I can be nice too sometimes okay?” Ravas got more defensive with each protestation, but it was the final one which convinced Kelda.

Or maybe it was just something she’d been hoping to hear.

“Wait, but you did the run today too?” Kelda asked. “And you came in second place!”

“Sure. Why do you think I didn’t beat you?” Ravas asked, the old cocky challenge in her voice again.

Kelda glared at her, but didn’t press the issue. She thought the run had been a little too easy. They would need to race again when they were both rested. 

“Can I ask you a question?” Ravas said, worryingly serious again.

“Always,” Kelda said.

“If the ships works, would we have to bring it back to the Temple?”

“Where else would we go?”

“Out there,” Ravas said, gesturing to the river of stars above them.

“The Jedi would never let us do that,” Kelda said.

“Yeah, I know,” Ravas said, her eyes cast down in a disappointment it would be years before Kelda understood.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Bonus Ch 2

Sali gave her first order to “Open Fire” at age 16. It wasn’t that she was particularly precocious for her age. It was that she was righteously enraged at the Palmaran Law Cruiser which had killed her Aunt and Uncle and was in the process of trying to kill her and the rest of the people on her ship.

“We can’t fire unless the Captain gives the order,” Beluk, the taller of the two remaining bridge crew said. “The ship’s got the weapon’s locked down.”

“I don’t give a kriffing phud about that,” Sali screamed. “I’ve got the Captain’s badge, so I’m the Captain now, and I say charge the damn guns and blow that ship out of the sky.”

In theory Captaincy of an inter-system transport wasn’t the sort of thing which could be acquired as a “finders keepers” sort of thing, but after escaping the depressurizing cabin from which her only previously surviving family had been cast into space, and then struggling to get through both a burning corridor and an electrified elevator shaft, Sali was entirely out of patience with the galaxy and everyone else in it.

“Computer, initiate scan, process new crew assignments,” Loxtrol, the short and fuzzy other surviving bridge crew said.

Sali heard a tortured beep as the computer scrambled to find the resources to execute the requested routine.

A moment later a blue light bathed the bridge and the badge Sali had grabbed off the charred corpse on the central command chair responded with a blue pulse of its own.

“New crew allocation confirmed,” a mechanized voice said a moment before one of the displays at the far end of the bridge exploded.

“Give the order again,” Beluk said, running his hands over the controls at his station faster than Sali could follow.

“Charge our guns, target the Law Cruiser, and fire on it until there is nothing left but a cloud of expanding gas,” Sali said. “If any escape pods launch, I want them tractor beamed and once the Law Cruiser is gone, we’re going to pop them one right after enough and then blow them to space dust too.”

“What?” Beluk said.

“Was I unclear,” Sali asked.

“No. Not at all. Charging main guns now,” Beluk said.

“I’m getting a hail from the Law Cruiser and their engines are powering up,” Loxtrol said.

“Target the engines first. There’s no escape from this,” Sali said. “And put the hail through. I want to hear them beg.”

“Illegal transport vessel Dartan Sol, we read an energy build up on your weapon’s system,” a still Imperial accented voice said.

Sali knew voices like that.

She’d heard them a lot growing up. 

Remnants of the old Empire that had been swept away, driving those who clung to its power out to to the fringes of the galaxy. The thing about the galaxy though is that four hundred billion stars is a lot of space, and the fringes had plenty of room to absorb all sorts of awfulness.

“That’s because we’re going to kill you with them,” Sali said, assuming there was still a microphone intact somewhere that would pick up her voice.

“We have engaged the remote firing locks on your weapons,” the ex-Imperial said. “Your engine systems and navigational controls have been disabled as well. Cease resisting and you will be processed according to Palmaran law.”

“This is the Zudani system. Palmaran law does not apply here,” Loxtrol said.

“The Zudani system has been accepted as a member of Palmaran Protectorate,” the ex-Imperial said. “Any attempt to resist our lawful prosecution will result in the destruction of your vessel and permanent indenture of any survivors.”

Sali saw a light flicker off on the console in front of her.

“There won’t be any survivors,” Beluk said. “Just like there probably aren’t many Zudani left anymore either.”

“What do you mean?” Loxtrol said.

“The Palmaran’s took the Kastobol system last year,” Beluk said. “The Kastobol resisted and the Palamaran’s used some of the old Imperial Star Destroyers to bomb the planetary surface to a molten sea of rock. They only care about territory for the ‘humans only’ mini-Empire.”

“Are the weapon’s charged yet?” Sali asked. The history lesson was fascinating but she was more focused on consigning people to history for the time being.

“No. A lot of the relays are down. Repair droids are working on it, but they need time,” Beluk said.

“How much?” Sali asked.

“As much as we can give them,” Beluk said. “If we can buy them five minutes though, it looks like they can get the central relay going. That’ll give us weapons but no maneuverability. Of course we don’t have engine control anyways so no loss there.”

“Put them back on then,” Sali said.

“Are you sure?” Beluk asked. “They don’t seem to have the plans for our class of ship or they wouldn’t have shot up the bridge and missed the main nav computers that are two floor up, but they could still hit us again and we barely survived the first shot.”

“Some of us didn’t survive it,” Sali said, though in her case it had been a shot that had mistargeted the engines.

“If we get the deflector shields up, we can take some of their shots,” Loxtrol said. “We certainly won’t be dodging them.”

“Put them on, and get the weapons online first,” Sali said.

Beluk and Loxtrol shared a glance that said ‘we’re going to die no matter what, might as well humor the girl with the Captain’s badge’ and got to work.

Sali waited until the light on her console came back on before speaking.

“What charges under Palmaran Law are you bringing against us?” she asked once the channel was open again.

“Your weapons are still powering up,” the Imperial said.

“Energy overflow,” Sali said. “You damaged the regulators when you destroyed the navigational array.”

She had no idea if any of that could even vaguely be true but she didn’t need it to be true, she just needed it to be believable.

“Get that under control then or we will be forced to enact a summary judgment on you.” Why the Imperial had stopped firing wasn’t much of a mystery. Even with the damage they’d inflicted the transport vessel was worth a fortune, and there wasn’t much fledgling micro empires liked more than stealing resources from others.

With the damage the Law Cruiser done in its initial bombardment, the Imperial had to be aware that any further attacks could deal a lot more damage than intended. Which would make them cautious. Maybe even for five minutes.

“The droids are working on it now,” Sali said. “Now what charges justify your assault on us.”

“You violated Palmaran sovereign space,” the Imperial said.

“You fired on us before you even declared that this was Palmaran space!” Beluk said.

“Our borders are sacrosanct regardless of your ignorance of them,” the Imperial said.

“So why did you disable our navigation array?” Sali asked. “We could leave your space if you’d left us the ability to fly out of it.”

“Criminals are not allowed to escape justice. Your ship is to be impounded and all aboard will stand trial to determine your Loyalty Rating.”

“Our what?” Sali was playing for time but she couldn’t deny that plumbing the depths of the Palmaran’s terribly stupidity held a morbid fascination all its own.

“Your identification will be seized and compared to a database of known Rebel sympathizers and subversives. If any of you are determined to have acted against the laws of the Palmaran Protectorate, you will be tried accordingly.”

“What about people who aren’t carrying Palmaran identification chips?” Sali asked.

“Failure to provide proper identification is a crime and is punishable at the highest level of offense.” The Imperial seemed gleeful about that which told Sali all she needed to know about the sort of horrors that awaited them.

“What constitutes proper identification?” Sali asked, already knowing what the answer was.

“Any form of Imperial blockchain identification is acceptable, provided it has been registered with Palamaran Central Command or carries a Gold clearance level or higher.”

In other words, they were looking for people who wanted to remain Imperial citizens when the Empire fell, especially ones who were in positions of authority and would have access to the monumental amount of stolen funds the Imperials had hidden away after the destruction of the second Death Star. 

Sali cast a glance over to Beluk, silently asking for an update.

Beluk shook his head and held out his hand with his thumb and forefinger separated by a slight gap.

Sali grimaced. She was tired of listening to the Imperial. Tired of knowing he was still alive. Tired of any of the people on the Law Cruiser being alive.

“Are you going to be sending boarding parties over?” she asked, a new plan forming. “We will need to redirect the repair droids to the hangar in that case.”

“We will send a team to take control of your bridge,” the Imperial said. “All of your command staff will present themselves at the hangar, along with any security staff. You will all be disarmed when our security team arrives. If any weapons are detected, the security team is authorized to render summary judgment upon any and all who are present.”

Sali motioned for Loxtrol to mute the comm and saw the light on her console flicker off again.

“Do we have any security staff?” she asked.

“Not enough to repel a boarding party,” Loxtrol said.

“We lost some when the blew out the eighth deck,” Beluk said.

Because apparently the security team were headquartered on the same deck where Sali’s uncle had booked their rooms.

“That’s terrible for them but good for us,” Sali said, imagining the dead security team members delight at how she planned to avenge them.

She gestured for the comm to be enabled again.

“We have extensive damage which the repair bots cannot clear. It will take us time to make it to the hangar,” she said. “When will your security team be arriving in the hangar?”

“They will be departing on my command,” the Imperial said.

“They may want to wait until the decks have been cleared,” Sali said. “The droid reports are saying that may take several hours.”

“We do not have several hours, and I do not trust you,” the Imperial said. “Order the security team to depart now.”

“Uh, sir, the transport’s weapons are still building up energy sir,” someone on the Law Cruiser said from outside the transmission window.

“It doesn’t matter. We have them locked down,” the Imperial said. “Send the security team.”

A fast shuttle was perfectly capable of traversing the distance between the Law Cruiser and the Transport in under a minute. At best pace, the security team could have arrived in time to thwart all of Sali’s plans.

But they didn’t make their best pace.

The security shuttle floated leisurely through the void, lining up with the transport’s dock for an easy landing.

They were roughly at the halfway point when the first turbolaser batter began firing, and the security team had an excellent view at the primary weapons array on the cruiser went up like a bomb.

More turbolaser batteries on the transport spoke after that, each targeting a different weapons system until in just under two seconds, the Law Cruiser was stripped of offensive weaponry. That wouldn’t normally have been possible but the transport had been given an awful lot of time to work out precise targeting of an enemy which they had the exact deckplans for.

Before the security team could process that, the tractor beam caught them.

And then the Turbolasers switched targets and began tearing apart the Law Cruiser’s engines.

None of the shots hit the bridge, and none hit the crew quarters.

Sali gave them plenty of time to free and waited until the last of the escape pods had launched before turning the Law Cruiser into cosmic dust.

Then, just as promised, she had the tractor beams which held the escape pods begin to crush them, one by one, saving the Security Shuttle and the Imperial Captain’s pod for last, so they would have plenty of time to understand what was coming.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Bonus Ch 1

Zindiana was certain of very few things in life. That the Sisters of her Order were not going to let her live down her present circumstances was one of them though.

“Should we leave her up there?” Sister Morcross asked, toying with a vibro-blade rather than severing the cord which was holding Zin aloft by her ankles.

“I don’t know. Do you think the extra blood rushing to her brain will help her learn from this?” Sister Aglaia asked in turn. She could have worked the winch beside her which would also have lowered Zin to the ground, but Aggy was too busy looting the bodies of the smugglers they’d dispatched.

“It’s not the blood that rushes to her brain that gets her into these predicaments,” Sister Olono said with a note of weary aggravation in her voice. Despite that, she at least did something to help by tossing a crash pad beneath Zin’s dangling body.

“This is not my fault,” Zin said, trying and failing to stop herself from spinning. “I saw a chance to find where they’ve been hiding the Kraytich Cache.”

All of the other Sisters laughed at that in unison.

“You saw a chance to find out what that smuggler lass had hiding under her blouse is more like it,” Sister Morcross said.

Zin bristled at that. Yes, okay, Malwina had been disturbing attractive. And sure, the easiest method of getting her to talk had been to approach her as someone interested in something other than the Kraytich Cache. And, yes, this wasn’t the first time a dangerous and pretty lady had gotten the better of Zin. It was arguably a personal failing on Zin’s part, but without bad decisions how would you ever really know that you were making good ones.

That literally none of the rest of her Order subscribed to that philosophy should possibly have suggested that there were issues with it, but Zin felt there were benefits which were often overlooked.

Thoughts of the previous night danced in her head before a quick fall dropped her onto the crashpad. Her head appreciated that less than the memories she’d been indulging in but nothing was broken so she couldn’t complain too much she supposed.

“As I was saying, I wasn’t just having fun,” Zin said. “I was doing the Orders work there.”

“I don’t know if euphemisms can stretch that far,” Sister Aglaia said, not bothering to hide a sardonic smile.

Zin shook her head and sighed. Her days of not being taken seriously were looking farther away all the time.

“They’d got the Cache hidden below the Graltz Shipyards,” she said, knowing that nothing else she could say would change the topic of conversation.

“Oh, do they now?” Sister Olono said. “And how did you get your paramour to tell you that?”

“Are you sure you want the answer to that question?” Morcross asked.

Zin ignored her, in this case because the answer wasn’t particularly salacious.

“I checked her data scrib after we fell asleep,” Zin said.

“What kind of smuggler forgets to set a password on their data scrib?” Aglaia asked.

“Why would you think she forgot to set a password?” Zin asked, offended at the very notion.

“Let me guess, you cleverly teased that out of her too?” Morcross asked.

“I know you’re very very old Sister Morcross, but you are aware that we have slicers to get around little things like passwords don’t you?” Zin asked. That Sister Morcross was one year older than Zin hardly qualified her as ‘ancient’ by human standards, but Zin used what ammunition she had available.

“Very funny,” Morcross said. “So what was up with these guys?”

Zin looked at the two dead smugglers who her Sisters had dragged into Malwina’s room.

“Must be other members of the gang,” Zin said. “Malwina had mentioned having some guards nearby. She must have left them outside so that I couldn’t get out if I came to before she got back.”

“Things didn’t go well last night I take it?” Aglaia asked.

“Malwina was happy enough that she went to sleep in my arms,” Zin said. “Not sure how we got from there to her drugging me and hanging me by my feet. It’s almost like someone else alerted the gang that someone was on their trail and Malwina decided to play things safe, but I know no one would have done anything like that when we were under strict orders not to engage in hostilities unless necessary.”

“Yes, um, about that…” Morcross began to say.

“There was an altercation last night,” Olono said. “After you left for your tryst, a small group of the smugglers went to conduct a bit of ‘side business’. We had to intervene, and that may have gotten back to your paramour.”

“What sort of ‘side business’?” Zin asked. She didn’t want to have to shoot Malwina, but anyone involved in the sort of dealings which would force her Sisters to intervene almost certainly needed to be stopped.

“Trade in cultural relics has a restrictive list of potential clients. Trade in stolen medical supplies on the other hand has a much broader market,” Olono said. 

“That’s not usually something we involve ourselves with though…?” Zin asked.

“In this case, we had to.” Olono said. “The supplies in question were plague vaccines for the Tamdani Pox outbreak on Crystellia.”

“Tamdani Pox is bad. Melts the victim over the space of month,” Aglaia said. “And the only ones who the current vaccine works on are children.”

“Any delay in the shipment arriving would mean hundreds of dead kids,” Olono said. “So we had to intervene.”

“I suppose that’s why you came to check on me?” Zin said.

“Among other reasons,” Olono said.

“Those being that you missed your first two check-ins this morning, and your locator beacon was off,” Morcross said.

“The beacon might have been what gave Sister Zindiana away,” Aglaia said.

“Oh, no, sorry. I turned it off. Because it could have given me away,” Zin said. “It seemed safer since I knew you’d be able to find me without it.

Sister Olono bapped her in the head.

“We’ve been looking for you for two hours now,” Olono said. “Do you know many times over you could be dead in two hours?”

“One?” Zin said, which drew an ireful raising of a fist from Sister Olono.

“Now, now,” Aglaia said. “There’s no need for that. Sister Zindiana won’t be making that mistake again. Not after she does her debriefing with Mother Clarity.”

Zin swallowed.

In all of her scheming she had somehow forgotten to consider that she would need to file a detailed report with their Order’s commander.

“You could just string me back up if you like. Forget you ever found me. That would be fine,” Zin said.

“Oh, certainly not,” Aglaia said. “Not after you went to all this trouble to find where our quarry is hidden.”

“Oh, bah, it was no trouble at all,” Zin said. “And if I’m not here when Malwina gets back that will raise suspicions won’t it? Clearly only one choice we can make. You’ll just have to leave me behind. Tragic loss and all that.”

Morcross laughed at that.

“She thinks that would be enough to get out of a debriefing. Oh I remember being that young and foolish once.”

“Also, not to point out an obvious flaw in your plan, but the dead bodies here will probably raise a touch more suspicion that you being missing,” Agalai said as she stuffed the first dead smuggler into the apartment’s small cleansing stall.

Zin’s hopes and shoulders sank.

“That’s the spirit!” Morcross said.

“Did you find out anything else from your girlfriend’s scrib?” Olono asked.

“There’s at least three doors to get to the old Royal Crypt where they have their treasury stored,” Zin said. “They keep someone on duty inside the Crypt at all times, and there’s usually a few other people in their to keep the guard company.”

“Enough to be a problem?” Morcross asked.

“For all of us? No,” Zin said. “Sounded like more than I’d want to try to handle solo though.”

“Or else you would have slipped off and tried to get the Cache back yourself,” Aglaia said.

“Only after receiving the proper orders,” Zin said.

No one looked as though they believed her, which Zin had to credit as being fair. Victory tended to buy a lot more forgiveness than a good idea bought permission in her experience, and the others were all too familiar with her belief in that.

“We’ll need something to get us out once we have the Cache,” Olono said.

“Probably want to plan on carrying more than that,” Aglaia said. “We know the Cache’s worth, and if they managed to score a relic of that caliber there’s a good chance we’re going to find more worth taking once we’re there.”

“What did you have in mind?” Olono asked.

= = =

“You know, I’d expected that you were planning to get us a bigger ship,” Olono asked as they crashed out of the Royal Vault in the opposite directions that they’d crashed into it.

“I thought we’d solve the getting in and getting out problems at the same time,” Aglaia said, steering the Ultra-Speed Earth Borer through the wall of the next building over.

Zin wasn’t sure about the level of property damage they were doing, but she had to admire the efficiency of simply blasting a path directly to the vault and then back out of it. Also the cargo room in the Borer was breathtaking thanks to the tunnel support segments they were dragging befind them. 

The comm in front of her beeped for an incoming message. It was on Zin’s scrib id and there was only one person on the planet who wasn’t riding in the Borer with her who had it.

“Hi Mawina,” Zin said opening the comm channel in spite of the horrified looks on her Sister’s faces. “How’s your day going? You didn’t stay around for breakfast.”

“I’m so sorry there,” Malwina said, her accepting sending little tingles along Zin’s nerves. “I had a small pest problem to deal with. Inventory is loss is such an issue in my business.”

“That doesn’t sound like a fun start to you day. Were you tied up with that for long?” Zin asked, amused to see how long they could go without making specific accusations of what they both clearly knew to be true.

“The tie up didn’t go on as long as I’d expected,” Malwina said. “The inventory problems do seem to be getting worse though.”

“I’m guessing that means you won’t have a chance to get together again tonight?” Zin asked.

There were all sorts of traps Zin could set if Malwina was intent on revenge more than slinking off into the shadows. Of course the same was true in reverse as well. Which was what made the game so fun.

“Oh, I’d be delighted to see you again, but I don’t think I’ll be quite up for it tonight,” Malwina said.

“Your inventory problems are that bad?” Zin asked. “Anything I could help you with?”

“I suppose that depends where you are now?” Malwina asked.

The comm like clicked off, Zin’s mic having been disabled from another station.

“Don’t you dare answer that,” Morcross said.

“Perhaps she should,” Olono said.

“We don’t really need to fight the whole gang at once,” Morcross said.

“We won’t have to,” Zin said, seeing the plan that was taking shape in Olono’s mind. She flicked the switch to activate her mic again. “I’m on Kestrel Avenue. No, wait, make that Dindar Boulevard. Or, no, hope that was an empty building. Okay it looked like it was. Anyways I’m at the spaceport now. We’ve got some loading to do, but I don’t think that will take very long at all.”

“Excellent. See you soon then,” Malwina said and cut the connection.

“Us and the planetary Navy which is doing drills here,” Zin said, wondering if she’d at least get to have one last dance with the woman who was pretty certainly set on trying to kill her.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 47

Nix wasn’t surprised when Ayli scoffed at the threat of being Force Lightninged. In reality Nix had several better alternatives, and calling on the Force for things like that tended to amplify the worst parts of anyone’s psyche.

Nix was however being quite sincere.

Zapping Ayli into unconsciousness was a last resort, but it was a resort. It would leave Nix feeling terrible,which was a small price to pay compared to losing her wife to violent mania.

Not that Nix had plans to zap her wife. Or any plans at all really.

There was something out there for them, but their future was elusive and unset. 

“I think I can get used to being your monster if it comes with head massages like this,” Ayli said and stretched in a manner that banished any thoughts of zapping her or causing any other harm at all.

“So long as you come back to me,” Nix said and pressed another kiss to Ayli’s forehead.

“You’ve got to promise me one other thing though,” Ayli said.

“What’s that?” Nix asked, her mind filling with a gentle hunger for the woman in her lap.

“I’ll come back to you, but only if you promise me that you’ll leave me,” Ayli said.

Nix had been ready for a number of requests but that was not one of them.

“I’m not quite sure how that works?” she said at last, studying Ayli’s upside down face for some clue as to what she was thinking.

“Don’t stay with me if I hurt you again. Don’t stay with me if I’m a danger to you. If I lose myself like I was going to there, if I turn into a screaming Force Lighting Dark Side beast, I can’t be allowed to hurt you. I can’t bear the idea of hurting you. You say you love me, but don’t love me in spite of what I do. You’re worth more than that. You deserve someone who…”

“Do not say ‘someone who’s better for you’,” Nix cut Ayli off with a whisper and another kiss.

“I know,” Ayli said. “This isn’t me either. I’m not usually so….so…”

“Weak?” Nix suggested.


“You’ve had a ridiculously stressful few weeks, you bonded with a living ghost and used the Force to amplify your rage to the point where it could split rock, and we only barely escaped an exploding continent thanks to you flying the spaceship equivalent of a bathtub through a tornado. If I told you about a woman like that would you be willing to cut her a few breaks? Maybe give her the benefit of the doubt that she wasn’t quite at her best for any of that?” Nix asked.

“Yes, but…”

“But it felt miserable. Anger came so easily afterwards. It’s even still there. Everything I’m saying is at least a little bit annoying and part of you wants to grab my ears and just scream?”

Ayli’s only response was silence for a long moment.

“How can you love that?” she finally asked in a small voice.

Nix gathered her into a long hug.

“How could I not when it comes with all the rest of you?” she asked. “And before you object to that, I just want you to consider two things. First, how much it means that despite everything you’ve been dealing with, you’re still here, with me, when you could have just given up or run away, and second, I want you to ask yourself how I know what you’re going through.”

Ayli stared at Nix for a while.

“You’re reading my mind with the Force?” Ayli asked at last.

No. This what communicating through the Force feels like, Nix called out with her mind, causing Ayli’s eyes to open wide in shock.

“Then how?” Ayli asked, her brow furrowing.

“Because I’ve been there too,” Nix said. “Like I said, we need to learn more about each other. In this case, I’d like you to imagine how a young girl who’s as close to the Force as I am might handle things like being left alone in the world. Or people trying to hurt her. Or just being hungry and tired and out of patience.”

“Poorly,” Ayli said, a note of too-familiar pain in her voice. “She would have handled it poorly.”

“That is an excellent description of my childhood,” Nix said. 

“You used the Dark Side as a kid?” Ayli asked.

“I guess so? I didn’t know that’s what I was doing but, looking back, all the ‘accidents’ people had? The occasional blackouts when I was screaming my head off? The sheer joy at seeing the people I was mad at suffer? That feels very in line with the echoes I felt on Praxis Mar,” Nix said.

“But you’re not like that now? How?” Ayli asked.

“I am like that,” Nix said. “I think everyone is. How we chose to act though doesn’t have to be driven by our feelings.”

“I thought using the Force was all about listening to our feelings?” Ayli said.

“Sure. We listen to the Force, and the Force often speaks through our feelings. Listening to something and acting on everything we think it says are two different things though. Sometimes our feelings are just our own. Sometimes they’re not even that. Sometimes we can absorb a bad mood from the people around us. Or from the stress of a situation we’re in. Acting on those and following where the Force wants to lead us are two very different things though.”

“I’m not sure how you can tell the difference,” Nix said.

“I can’t,” Nix said. “Not always. When I’m calm though? That makes it a lot easier.”

“I don’t seem to be great at staying calm,” Ayli said.

“Were you great at piloting ships when you were learning to walk?” Nix asked.

“That’s not the same thing,” Ayli said.

“Isn’t it? We’re both new to consciously using the Force,” Nix said. “Right from the beginning. you were hit with challenges that were more than a Jedi Master could handle – just look at how things turned out for Kelda. You can’t imagine that what you’ve done so far is the best you can possibly do. Everything you do from here will have the benefit of what you’ve learned so far. You’ll remember not only that you can use the Dark Side, but also what it costs you to do so.”

“I should keep arguing with you,” Ayli said, a contented purr in her voice.

“Still not convinced?” Nix asked.

“No. I just want to keep you here, like this, for as long as I can.”

“Well, we don’t need to argue for that,” Nix said, kissing Ayli’s forehead and bending further to kiss her nose and then her lips.


Dinner time rolled around eventually and found Nix and Ayli heading to the mess hall on the conscripted Battle Cruiser.

“She’s awake!” Sali said as Nix and Ayli took seats at the Captain’s table.

“Am I going to regret that?” Ayli asked, grabbing a plate of rolls for Nix.

“I don’t know,” Sali said. “Do you have my cut of the fabulous planetary treasure horde tucked away somewhere?”

“I’ve probably got a few pebbles stuck to my boots,” Alyi said. “I’m guessing that’s all we escaped from Praxis with?”

“Technically we also have a new ship too,” Goldie said.

“That one didn’t look like it was in such good shape last I saw it,” Sali said.

“I’ll be happy to take it then if you don’t want it?” Goldie asked.

“That sounds good,” Zindiana said. “Except I think I’d like to inspect the cargo holds first.”

“The techs said they were empty,” Goldie said.

“And the hidden cargo holds?” Zindiana asked.

“Oh. Uh. Those haven’t been checked yet,” Goldie said and Nix had to smile. Out-pirating Sali or Zindiana was going to take a lot more experience than Goldie’d had a chance to accumulate in her short life span since she became sapient.

“I think I’ll be heading down there right now then,” Sali said. “Would hate for anyone to misplace the contents of a hold or two.”

“Hey! I’ve got monetary needs to you know!” Goldie said.

“Just how trashed is the Goldrunner?” Ayli asked.

“It’s repairable,” Nix said, excited at the prospect of the work she’d get to do on it. There were so many improvements that required a full ship tear down to put in place and the Goldrunner was two half broken bolts away from the tear down part being done already.  “We might need to stop over at the Berzan Scrapyards are some place like it though. Give me about a month there and I can get the Goldrunner back in proper shape.”

“A month and how many credits?” Ayli asked.

“If we stop at Berzan? Maybe none?” Nix said. “I know one of the Scrapper Bosses. She’ll probably let me trade some repair work on her ships for the parts we need.”

“I can help!” Goldie said.

“Is that you’re next destination then?” Zindiana asked.

“We haven’t talked about it yet,” Nix said, taking a sip from the bowl of strew she’d pulled from the communal pot. The warmth of the liquid helped her relax muscles she hadn’t been aware she was holding tension in which in turn opened her sense up a little wider to the Force. 

There were so many paths open before them, and Nix could smell sorrow and joy in each. If she had any sort of ‘Grand Destiny’ though, it was one which either lay down all of the paths before her or which she simply hadn’t chosen to embrace yet.

“Where are we now?” Ayli asked. “And what happened after Ravas zapped me?”

“Praxis Mar gained a new mountain range,” Zindiana said. “I’ve had a lot of things try to eat me before, but this was the first time a lava mountain got the thought in its mind.”

“You got up high enough that it couldn’t quite reach us,” Nix said. “Ravas flew us into this Cruiser mostly with the Force I think and then we got out of the system.”

“The New Republic didn’t have a problem with that?” Ayli asked.

“Technically they don’t have jurisdiction here. This whole area is outside of New Republic space. They just weren’t willing to let a bunch escaped convicts have a war fleet to play with,” Zindiana said.

“You know I don’t get why that same logic didn’t apply to the Klex?” Nix said, considering the alternatives before them and listening to her feelings to see which had the right pull on her.

“The Klex Cartel were a known entity,” Zindiana said. “They were into all kinds of illegal things, but they didn’t knock over New Republic colonies, or stations, so they weren’t considered much of a threat.”

“I notice you’re talking about them in the past tense?” Ayli asked with a hopeful note in her voice.

“Thirty-two and the other former inmates forced them into the planetary defense grid. The ships that survived that all crash landed on Praxis, which wasn’t a great place to be with the thousand kilo longer chasms the earthquakes tore open,” Zindiana said.

“I checked the telemetry and none of the ships that crashed got off the planet before the eruptions began,” Goldie said. “And none were visible before we left the system.”

“Rest in pieces,” Ayli said, a sigh of relief escaping her.

Nix didn’t disagree. With the Klex Cartel gone, a number of their problems vanished as well. They would need to return to Praxis Mar someday – the ruins were still there, if in significantly worse shape than before, but their story could still be told and remembered. That was a problem for the future though, at the present neither she nor Ayli were in any shape to take on a challenge of that magnitude.

“That’s probably what you two should do as well,” Zindiana said and then winced at the implication. “Rest that is. Although, letting the galaxy think you’re dead isn’t a terrible idea either.”

“That is certainly a choice they can make,” Kelda said, appearing as a translucent ghost on the other side of the table, her Jedi robes looking pristine while, beside her, a translucent Ravas sat in a simple tunic, breeches, and shawl.

“I thought you said they were dead?” Ayli asked, turning to Nix for confirmation that they were both seeing the same thing.

“We are,” Ravas said. “But it seems we’re both still stuck here.”

“I don’t understand,” Nix said. “I thought bringing you two back together would help you find peace? That you’d be able to move on.”

“It did,” Kelda said.

“We just don’t want to go,” Ravas said.

“Not yet at least,” Kelda said.

“We need you two,” they both said together.

“Uh, what for?” Ayli asked, quicker on the draw than Nix was.

“You’re treasure hunters,” Kelda said. “You managed to find the most precious thing in all the worlds for me.”

Nix noticed that the two ghosts were holding hands, and that Ravas only looked slightly embarrassed by it.

“We have another treasure we’d like you to seek out,” Ravas said.

“You found a Temple to the Dark Side despite it being hidden for centuries and impossible to scry. We’d like you to find one of the lost Jedi Temples next,” Kelda said.

“It won’t be easy though,” Ravas said. “The Jedi knew how to hide things far better than my former master ever did.”

“Which means you will need training,” Kelda said.

“And we would be your tutors,” Ravas said.

“Not masters?” Ayli asked.

“The living are always masters of their own fates,” Kelda said. 

Nix looked to Ayli who met her gaze and nodded after a moment’s consideration.

The future lay ahead of them like a wild, unplanned jump, but Nix smiled.

They were going to be fine.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 46

As close calls went, Ayli was having a hard time thinking of a time when she’d had less margin for error. In part that was because she was having a hard time thinking at all.

“Command craft, we have Cataclysm-class seismic activity reading from the surface directly below you,” Thirty-two called out. 

With the former Preservation League prisoners having been officially conscripted by the government of Calerpris, both sides of their current conversation had settled on calling the stolen cargo hauler that Ayli was piloting ‘Sali’s command craft’. It was a transparently thin ploy but that was all the commander of the New Republic’s fleet required to begin demobilizing his troops back to the far safer duty they’d originally been assigned to cover. 

“It’s not seismic activity,” Nix said.

“Looks pretty seismic from down here,” Sali said. She, Zindiana and Goldie were still trapped in the wrecked shell of the Goldrunner, which in turn was trapped in the tractor beam Ayli had caught them in. 

She’d managed to snug the Goldrunner up to the underbelly of the escape craft but that was doing nothing for its maneuverability.

“How long till your ready for docking?” Ayli asked. She had the Battle Cruiser in visual range but trying to land on a deck that wasn’t prepared for a tandem landing was an excellent method of destroying three ships for the price of one.

“We’re in position now,” Thirty-two said. “Stabilizers are fighting for control though. The techs say you won’t be able to land until things settle down.”

“We do not have the time,” Ravas said. “This will not settle down until the beast has arisen.”

And then they would be dead.

Ayli didn’t know what sort of creature lived inside a planet which had been swallowed by the Dark Side, but since it could apparently break continents she was reasonably sure it could break them as well.

“Tell the techs not to worry,” Ayli said . “And tell them to stand back.”

“Kelda, Ravas, I think we need to buy some time,” Nix said.

“That better not involve leaving this ship,” Ayli said.

“Nope. None of us are going to do that,” Nix said. “We are however going to draw its attention.”

“Isn’t that the last thing you should be doing?” Sali asked over the comm.

“Normally? Yes,” Nix said. “In this case though? That thing is so big it’s going to wipe us out without even thinking about it. So we can either be collateral damage right now or we can push back and buy ourselves some more time.”

“I vote for more time,” Zindiana said.

Ayli didn’t bother adding her voice to the vote. The escape craft had been designed to haul large amount of goods, not fly with any particular precision. Lining it up with the bobbling Battle Cruiser, which was only barely rated for atmospheric flight, was nerve wracking on a day when she was already well past the limits of her last nerve.

In the back of her throat she could feel a growl building. It was frustrating that she’d come this far and things still weren’t easy. With each dip and rise of the mad thermals around them, the urge to reach out and grab both ships hard enough to crush them into a stable flight grew stronger.

Crushing them would feel so damn good too.

She could hear the screams of the metal.

The screams of the people were even better. A salve to her frustration and a lesson to the world to avoid annoying her in the future.

“Somebody else needs to take the controls,” she said, pushing back before the rage that was still building in her could leak out.

“You can do this,” Nix said laying a hand on her should.

Because of course Nix thought she could do it. Why wouldn’t she? Everything was easy for the human. She played with the Force like it was an obedient little droid. For Nix the Force was a good little slave.

Ayli shook her head.

“I can’t,” she said. “I’m…”

“She’s still recovering,” Ravas said. “Now is not the time to push her.”

Which was both completely true and something Ayli instinctively reacted against.

“That’s my choice,” she said and grabbed the controls again.

“It is,” Ravas said. “Just as this is mine.”

Ayli caught the barest glimpse of the lightning in Ravas’ hand before the world flashed and went dark.


Waking up wasn’t something she did swiftly. Consciousness came back to her in small, and gentle waves, each one lapping closer to wakefulness than the last.

Ayli was aware that she was laying down before anything else. The next wave brought with it the sensation of soft, clean clothes and sheets around her. The next a sense of dim lighting and the warm pillow beneath her head.

Except it wasn’t a warm pillow.

Because pillows didn’t run their hands gently along your lekku and massage the tension from the muscles of her head, and neck, and face.

“You can rest more if you want,” Nix said.

Ayli let herself sag into Nix’s lap even further. Did she drift off for a minute? An hour? A year? She had no way of knowing except that Nix was still there with her when the next wave brought her further back to consciousness.

“What happened?” Ayli asked, unwilling to open her eyes just yet. “Where are we?”

“Technically the First Officer’s cabin on Sali’s flagship,” Nix said, “but they’re calling it the Honeymoon Suite because they think they’re clever.”

“What? How did we get here?”

“With some help from our friends,” Nix said but at Ayli’s frown continued. “Ravas kind of knocked you out, and then took over the ship controls while Kelda and I tried to keep the Beast away from us.”

“I’m guessing that worked?”

“Right up until the point where Ravas suffered a rapid case of ‘I’m a corpse powered by the Dark Side and you just flew me off the Dark Side planet.”

“She’s dead?” Ayli asked, feeling surprisingly unhappy about that given that Ravas had just electrocuted her.

“She’s been dead since we met her,” Nix said. “Her weirdly preserved body is simply back to being an inert lump like dead bodies are supposed to be.”

“So how did you land the ship?” Ayli asked, knowing this couldn’t be the afterlife given how heavy and lethargic she felt.

“Turns out being away from the planet of Dark Side misery made things a like easier to move with the Force,” Nix said. “Kelda did most of the work there, though even with the two of us working on it I’m afraid neither ship is exactly in operational condition at the moment.”

“How non-operational are they?” Ayli asked and quickly added, “And what about Goldie? Did she make it out?”

“Oh, yeah, Goldie’s fine. She’s hooked up to the Battle Cruiser now, though we should get her out of their before all those armaments start giving her bad ideas.” Nix was still lightly massaging Ayli’s head and added “A question for you though; how are you feeling now?”

“Tired. Like I was hit by a lifter, the heavy grav kind,” Ayli admitted, not wanting the tender care she was receiving to end.

“Ravas wanted me to extend her apologies on that,” Nix said. “She said you’d understand when you woke up.”

“Think I haven’t woke up yet then,” Ayli said.

“She said your heart would be clearer now than before,” Nix said.

Ayli focused on her emotions and found them as tired as she was. She could have called up rage as easily as she’d learned to mask it, or she could have on any other day. However long she’d slept, it had been enough to let the all consuming anger with her die away to cold embers.

In her memories she could still taste the power anger had offered her, could feel the gravitic draw it exerted on her thoughts, but those sensations had the advantage of distance. 

And of being gently massaged away by a pair of caring hands.

“She was right,” Ayli said. “I think…I think I was losing myself again there.”

“I think Ravas is familiar with that,” Nix said. “I think Kelda is too.”

“But not you,” Ayli said. It wasn’t a question or an accusation, though it had subtle shades of each.

“I know we’re already married, but we probably need to get to know each other a lot better,” Nix said with a small laugh. “I don’t think I’m quite what any of you think I am.”

“You’re not the beautiful, kind woman who’s pulling me back from toxic Dark Side poisoning by refusing to give up on me even when I try to hit you with Force Lightning?” Ayli asked.

“Not giving up on you doesn’t make me kind. You’re who I want to be with. I’m nothing but greedy for you,” Nix said. “If I’m managing to be kind, it’s a learned response, not a natural one.”

“You seem pretty adept at it to me,” Ayli said.

“It’s easy with you,” Nix said.

“Why?” Ayli asked. “I’m not saying I have any objections, but why be so interested in me? We more or less stumbled together randomly. Does who I am really matter?”

“Do you really think our meeting was random?” Nix asked.

Ayli narrowed her eyes, unsure of what she was hearing.

“Wait, did you arrange that?” she asked.

“Me? No. I was drunk out of my gourd,” Nix said. “But you’ve seen how the Force works. You’ve felt how it guides us.”

“Okay, that sounds even crazier. The Force wanted us to hook up? Is it a dating service now too?”

Nix chuckled at that and bent over to press a kiss to Ayli’s forehead.

“No, come on, you’ve felt how it works. The Force isn’t some vast mastermind. It’s the energy of the connections between all of us. We are the Force and when we use to to do things, we’re using something that we’re a part of.”

“I don’t get how that isn’t either you or the Force playing matchmaker?” Ayli said.

“Because it wasn’t me or the Force, it was me and the Force and you,” Nix said. “I was alone when we met. More than just between crews, or between jobs. I’d broken up with Sali a while back and I didn’t have anyone else really. No one who I fit with, or who needed me. I think the same was true for you right?”

“Yeah, but I’d been like that for a while.”

“And we both reached out,” Nix said. “I think in our hearts we asked the world to bring us to the someone we would fit with.”

“It can’t be that easy,” Ayli said. “We’d have found each other much sooner if all we needed to do was yearn for it.”

“Has any of this been easy?” Nix asked. 

“Yes,” Ayli said. “Oh, this whole trip has been hell, but you? You’ve been impossible not to…” 

She cut herself off at ‘fall in love with’, unsure if Nix was ready to hear those words yet.

“I love you too,” Nix said. “At least as much of you as I’ve seen so far. There’s a lot more to both of us though.”

“More that we won’t love?” Ayli asked.

“Probably. I definitely don’t love all of my parts,” Nix said. “But those parts aren’t the whole story of who I am or who you are, and loving you is a choice I’ll make based on all of whole you are, not just the worst bits.”

“You don’t know how bad the worse bits are yet though,” Ayli said.

“Yeah, but I know who you’ve made yourself with and in spite of them,” Nix said. “And that counts more than anything else.”

“Is it? Ayli said. “Because I might have made myself into as much of a monster of the Dark Side as Ravas did.”

“If you need to be a monster, then I’m going to make sure you’re my monster,” Nix said. “But I won’t let you hurt yourself like that. Not for me, and not for anyone else. Like I said, I love you Ayli’wensha and if that means I need to Force Lightning you into unconscious again, you better believe I’ll do it.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 45

As plans went, Nix was well aware that “arrest all of or allies” was not what one might call “blessed with conventional wisdom”. Even without the the intuitive clarity the Force usually provided her though Nix knew it would work.

“That does not seem like an improvement of our predicament,” Thirty-two said, which also did not surprise Nix.

“Huh, no, you know what I think she might be on to something,” Sali said, because one does not get to be a Pirate Queen, or survive for any period of time as one at least, if one is not able to grab opportunities when a glimpse of them is offered. “Thirty-two, you and the rest of the former Preservationist League’s contingent are, and this is important, have been under the custody of the Calerpris Protectorate, your incarceration negotiated and handled by the Calerprise Grand Regent.”

“I don’t recall…” Thirty-two began to say before understanding caught up to him. “OH! Why yes. Indeed, we are! In the heat of battle it quite slipped my mind. How silly. And the records we have here so clearly support that takeover with the proper dates and times already.”

Nix could almost hear the system hacking and forgery work being done through the vacuum of space, but it didn’t matter.

“Could you patch Sali through to the New Republic fleet’s commanders,” Nix said. “I’m sure she can sort this out with them, and explain how Calerpris had a standing judgment against the criminal Klex Cartel and its judicial mandate required the pursuit of said cartel, including the conscription of all legally available forces to combat the galaxy-wide threat the cartel represented.”

“Will they accept us as ‘legally available forces’?” Thirty-two asked.

“It’s the New Republic,” Nix said. “Slavery isn’t technically legal there. The prison system allows you to effectively be slaves, but all the Preservation League did was buy out the contract on providing you with food, shelter, and the rights to your work allowance.”

“There doesn’t seem to be an observable difference there,” Ravas said.

“You’re not wrong, except for the thin edge of ‘the letter of the law’ and the much wider gulf of this being a problem the New Republic doesn’t actually need to care about,” Nix said.

“Right,” Sali said. “They sent a fleet out here because they were afraid a new Warlord fleet with an army of convicts was going to come blasting for them. A bunch of prisoners changing to a new set of jailers is a bunch of people they don’t care about being managed by a different bunch of people they don’t care about. The key to dealing with a bureaucracy isn’t to be upset that they don’t give a krife about you and never will. What you need to do is exploit the fact that they don’t give a krife about you and never will. Take any other problems away and you can do whatever the krife you want.”

“Exactly,” Nix said. “Convince the New Republic that the prisoners some other governments problem before they start shooting and we’re fine.”

“The planet is about to smite us though,” Ayli said.

“Oh yeah. Convince them the prisoners are someone else’s problem and send a cruiser down here to pick us up in the next two minutes and we’re fine,” Nix said.

“One small problem with that,” Thirty-two said. “The remainder of Klex fleet fled from us and got blasted to pieces by the Praxis Defense grid. We’d love not to fight the New Republic fleet, but being blasted to pieces ourselves seems like a terrible alternative.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t be,” Nix said surveying the throne room before them.

“Yeah, we’re about to take the Defensive Grid off-line, permanently,” Ayli said, sparks of Force Lightning gathering in her hands.

Nix reached to hold her back but it was Ravas who stopped her first.

“Don’t,” Ravas said, laying a gentle hand on Ayli’s wrist. “I know that sounds wrong coming from me, but I even in life I knew the cost for that power was too high.”

“What? But you…” Ayli objected, the sparks growing more intense.

“Refused to let myself admit a lot of things,” Ravas said. “I knew, I always knew, what I was doing to myself. I thought embracing my own destruction for power was embracing the truth. The power was undeniable. It was real. What I was trading for it though? The effect it had on me? Those were real too, no matter how much I denied them. So don’t follow me. You do not need to destroy yourself, no matter the pain you carry.”

Nix wanted to add something to that, but she found herself gobsmacked.

Kelda, similarly, didn’t seem able to form words.

“What?” Ravas asked, seemingly annoyed at the attention, or perhaps embarrassed by it.

“You’re not wrong about destroying this place though,” Nix said, keenly aware of the lack of time left to them. “We just have less emotionally destructive means of going about it.”

The blue lightsaber felt like it had been molded to fit her hand precisely, and swinging it with joyous abandon through the control Throne in the room was fulfilling in a manner she had a hard time putting words to.

For their parts, Ravas and Ayli glanced at each other, lit their blades and joined the smiling mayhem with relish.

As it turned out, while the designers of the defense system had constructed it to survive thousands of years of automated service, they had not built sufficient redundancies to handle three people with lightsabers absolutely wrecking every panel, control surface, and power junction they could smack with a blade of disintegrating plasma.

“Don’t know what you did, but the entire planetary grid just went dead,” Thirty-two said.

“Told you the leader of the Children wanted all the controls at their fingertips,” Nix said, wishing there was a little more left to destroy.

“How fast can you get the Cruiser down to us?” Ayli asked.

“We’re on the wrong side of the planet, but we’re heading there now,” Thirty-two said. “Telemetry says, it’ll be three minutes until we want touch down.”

“No touching down,” Nix said. “We don’t have time and you do not want to be on the planet surface in three minutes.”

The sense of gathering dread was palpable and it’s scale beyond Nix’s ability to fathom. How many had died on Praxis Mar? Millions? Billions? How could she understand even a tiny fraction of that?

“We have a problem there,” Zindiana said. “I tried a reroute on the primary drive and we regained all the thrust we’re going to. It’s good for a whole four seconds now. There’s no chance we can make it to orbit for a pick up in that time.”

Nix turned to the Force. It was filled with despair, and lies, and self-deceiving illusions. Hate and misery had scrambled the harmonious flow of life on Praxis Mar to the point where even the grand balance of the cosmos was disrupted and led to destruction and ruin.

Except it didn’t want to.

The Force was twisted because the lives which had ended on Praxis Mar hadn’t been able to find a way past the pain and horror their lives had become.

Nix couldn’t say they’d been wrong. She couldn’t blame them for failing to fix a problem that was so much vaster than any one of them could face alone. Their story was a tragedy and there was no denying the horror which had engulfed them. 

She was distant from them though. She had the advantage of time which they had lacked. She was able to remind the Force that the end of Praxis Mar hadn’t been the end of everything, or even necessarily an inevitable end of anything.

There had been warning, chance to change course, opportunities to flee, or to change, or to save some parts of their world. 

Peering into the churning maelstrom of the Force within Praxis Mar, Nix knew that even in absolutely defeat, not everything had been lost.

Their history. Their culture. Their stories. They were all buried, shrouded in darkness and cloaked in long simmering rage, but beside Nix stood the answer to all of that.

“My wife can free you,” she told Praxis Mar. “She understands you. She’s an archeologist and she will tell your story.”

It was ridiculous.

It didn’t matter.

The story of Praxis Mar was over, and only the Dark Side remained.

The Dark Side in which lurked something far beyond the ability of any living being. Something which could only laugh at Nix’s pitiful attempt to bargain for her life before she was snuffed out like all the rest.

But Nix wasn’t bargaining.

She had no illusion that she could face the Beast of Praxis Mar. If she tried to stand against it, even with her friend, even with both of the fleets in orbit, they would all die. 

At least they would now.

Today they stood no chance.

Tomorrow though? 

A fierce and awful delight played across Nix’s lips as the Force spoke to her.

Tomorrow was unwritten.

And it wanted to be free of the torment it had been bound in for so long.

It could wait.

If she could promise it tomorrow, it could wait.

And that was easy.

The promise of tomorrow was already there.

The end of the rage that had swallowed Praxis Mar was nestled in a quiet little cave overlooked by everyone and home to a love which had endured past end of life and hope. 

Kelda said she hadn’t managed to redeem herself in the Force but Nix had to chuckle at that. Of course she had hung on Ravas, and of course she still hated Scytheus. Love and hate were both parts of life. In Kelda’s long hermitage, she’d found the quiet which answered the screams of the dead planet. She’d found the peace she needed, not to let go but to hold on and believe in the impossible without it destroying her.

Kelda hadn’t failed the Force and the Force hadn’t failed her. She was more complete than she knew, and in her was the proof that Praxis Mar’s future could be freed of the chains of its past.

The Force resonated with that like a gong and Nix saw a path to her tomorrow open like a river parting before her.


“We’re go for atmospheric insertion,” Thirty-two said. “We are getting cataclysm level seismic readings from the continent you’re on though.”

“Yeah, we’re not happy with that either,” Zindiana said. “How long till you’re in pick up range?”

“Thirty seconds,” Thirty-two said.

“At what altitude?” Zindiana asked.

“24,000 kells,” Thirty-two said.

“In standard units?” Sali asked.

“Translated on the display,” Goldie said.

“That’s no good,” Zindiana said. “We’re not going to make a tenth of that.”

“Not how I planned to go out,” Sali said. “There was supposed to be more booze and lots more guns.”

“Save some of that booze for us,” Ayli said, the ship to ship comms springing back to life after they’d gone mysteriously silent for over a minute.

“And boost. Now. Hard as you can!” Nix said.

The Goldrunner’s failing engines lit up and wrenched the craft into the air.

For one second.




Catastrophic engine failure. Zero output. Complete replacement needed.

And they began to fall back to the planet having achieved just enough altitude that the lack of power to the inertial compensators meant they were going to die from being pancakes against the planet’s surface rather than buried in lava or crushed by an earthquake.

That is until the tractor beam caught them.

“We’re not falling,” Sali said, shocked but not at all disappointed.

“Of course not,” Nix said. “You already fell for me. I’m not letting that happen again. I’m happily married now.”

“That new craft is yours then I take it?” Thirty-two said.

“Well it is now,” Ayli said.

“What did you do?” Sali asked.

“Stolen a getaway ship,” Nix said. “What, you didn’t think a paranoid cult leader wouldn’t have a getaway craft right near their throne room did you?”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 44

Ayli opened her eyes and was sprinting out of the cave the moment Ravas struck. Linking her mind to Nix’s had been clumsy and weird but she couldn’t deny it had made them both feel stronger, the harmony between them calling forth the confidence they had in each other as a shield Scytheus hadn’t been able to pierce.

Scytheus’ lightning however was another matter. Force Lightning, from what Ayli could remember through the haze of the blood rage she’d been in at the time, was singularly destructive and immeasurably painful. Even wearing a dead body, Scytheus had fled rather than try to stand against the storm she and Ravas had summoned.

That was not something she was willing to let Nix be struck by.

Or Ravas.

When Ayli had joined with Ravas’ ghost, she’d done so with the thought that she would never be free of the Zabrak woman’s spirit. 

But Ravas had left, had separated them of her own accord. 

And didn’t seem to be angling to reclaim her hold over Ayli.

Maybe because there hadn’t been any sort of hold. To the extent that anyone had been in charge of their raging gestalt, Ayli couldn’t say who that person had been.

Some weird blend of the two of them perhaps?

There had certain been as much of Ayli’s rage as Ravas’ driving the destructive rampage they went on.

Ayli wasn’t sure she would ever feel warmly towards Ravas. The anger which united them was too raw and sharp to allow anything except wary recognition and respect, but Ravas had earned at least that much.

Also, no one was allowed to hurt Ayli’s crew and after their time together, Ravas had unfortunately earned that distinction.

Ayli wasn’t alone in her desire to protect Ravas though, and someone else was much closer when the lightning started flaring.

From the mouth of the cave, Ayli watched as Kelda’s blue Force ghost emerged from Nix and grappled the Force Lightning away from the writhing and screaming Scytheus Dread. It looked neither easy nor painless but the fierce concentration on Kelda’s spectral features didn’t waver. 

Nor did the ice cold rage in Ravas’ eyes as she crushed, and crushed, and crushed Scytheus’ essence to dust.

In the end, he wasn’t destroyed in a grand explosive finale but as a scream which faded to empty silence.

A silence which ended a moment later as the ghost army he’d brought with him surged forward with a roar.

Ayli lit her lightsaber, for all the good an arc of plasma was going to do against spirits only to be pushed back in tracks by a single word.

“BEGONE!” Kelda and Ravas had turned back to back with each other and spoken as one. Against the planetary mass of Dark Side energy, they cast the defiance of the living Force and the Dark Side was the one who blinked first, the ghosts fading away and back as the two master Force users commanded.

Or that was what Ayli thought at first.

“Okay, this is bad,” Nix said. “We need to leave. Right now.”

“The Goldrunner’s at the base of the mountain.”

“Let’s hope not,” Nix said, pulling a communicator from one of her pockets. “Goldie, give me some good news.”

“I’ve got lots of good news!” Goldie said over the little device. “Look up, see all those shooting stars?”

“The Klex didn’t win the fight,” Nix said. “That’s good. Especially since we need to get up there ASAP.”

“Well, there I might not have as much good news for you,” Goldie said. “The Ion drive took a hit, or thirty seven hits, and it’s not behaving well at all.”

“Can you get airborne?”

“I’ve managed about 2 seconds of power through the drive so far. So no,” Goldie said.

“That’s good. We can work with that,” Nix said.

“Two seconds of flight will not protect us from what’s coming,” Ravas said.

“It won’t,” Nix agreed. “Not on it’s own. But it’s something to work with, and we can do a lot with that.”

“How are we going to get there? We can’t run down the mountain that fast,” Ayli said, not entirely sure that was true, but caring enough about the state of her knees that she wasn’t overly interested in putting it to the test.

Of course being buried in lava would do pretty dreadful things to her knees too, so if push came to shove…

“I don’t know, but I know it’s this way,” Nix said, her eyes alight with some hidden certainty and distant as if she was already at their destination.

Their destination which seemed to lie within the Third Temple.

“She can’t be relying on the Force, can she?” Ravas asked. “Not here.”

“Don’t look at me,” Kelda said. “I failed as a Jedi, remember.”

“I don’t,” Ravas said, which seemed to have multiple meanings buried in it, none of which did they have the time to unpack.

Nix, clearly sensing that, was already moving when Ayli glanced back to her, forcing Ayli to run to keep up, something which Ravas and Kelda’s ghost seemed to be able to do without effort.

“The Temple has literal tonnes of Phrik in it. There must be a vault made of it in there. Can we hide there? Is that what you’re sensing?” Ayli asked as they sprinted through the Temple’s main doors.

“I don’t think so,” Nix said. “If the volcano blows, we’d survive the explosion but being buried in an indestructible vault under a lake of cooling lava doesn’t seem ideal. Also we need to get Goldie, Sali, and Zin.”

“That’s a tall order.” Ayli was all too aware of how often sacrifices had to be made. How the mission mattered more than the ones who were tasked with carrying it out. How not everyone always got to make it home safely.

But what if the mission was to bring everyone home safely? That was what Nix had demanded and what she’d promised. Would that mean none of them were going to make it out?

Being stuck as a ghost on Praxis Mar seemed like a pretty terrible fate, but with the evidence provided by Kelda’s tiny sanctuary, Ayli had to wonder if their ghosts wouldn’t be able to form a tiny little paradise too.

“You’re not wrong,” Nix said without sounding at all defeated. “Getting out of here with all of us is more than we can do on own.”

Ayli caught Nix’s meaning from the hope with glittered around her words.

“We’re not alone though,” Ayli said, her thoughts leaping skyward, into the starry black above them. “We’ve got a whole fleet with us.”

“A victorious fleet,” Nix said.

“I’m not sure they’re going to be able to get here in time Mom,” Goldie said over the still open comm. “The defensive array…ohhhh!”

“Exactly,” Nix said. “The defensive array around the planet has to have controls somewhere and if you were a paranoid Dark Side cult would you trust those controls to be anywhere but directly under your thumb?”

“Jedi aren’t supposed to be trained to think like that,” Ravas said, looking to her side at Ravas as Nix Force pushed a door open at the end of the Great Hall revealing a long spiraling stair case leading up towards the volcano’s summit.

“We’re probably lucky she’s not a Jedi then,” Kelda said.

“You…you really didn’t train her?” Ravas asked.

“To do this?” Kelda asked. “What part of I had no idea any of this was possible makes that seem likely.”

“You became one with the Force. That’s supposed to give you perfect insight isn’t it?” Ravas grumbled.

“Um, well, about that,” Kelda said. “I might have been skirting the truth there with Scytheus.”

“What? How?” Ravas asked taking up the rear position as the four raced up the stairs.

“Even at the end of my life, I hadn’t fully redeemed myself,” Kelda said. “No. That’s a lie too. Even at the end, I didn’t want to redeem myself. I was never really sorry for what I did to Scytheus. Till the day I drew my last breath, a part of me wanted him to come back so I could hurt him more for what he did to you.”

“Then, I don’t understand, how are you here? Immortality in the Force was something they said only the greatest of Jedi could attain.”

“They were wrong,” Kelda said. “About a lot of things. Or they just didn’t want us to think we could skip taking our lessons seriously, so they simplified things. I’m sure Jedi who have fully mastered their abilities and are in perfect harmony with the Force can transcend to a higher state of being. I didn’t do that so much as simply held on. When I died I could have let go but I could feel that you weren’t there, so I wasn’t willing to leave either. Over time, I was able to become more present, but only to those where a connection existed.

“I never knew,” Ravas whispered, so low that Ayli almost missed it. The sorrow embedded in the words was unmistakable though.

“I never told you,” Ravas said.

“Heh! Just like I thought!” Nix said and Ayli cast her gaze forward to see the room beyond the door at the top of the stairs was a technological throne room, complete with systems still blinking and functional long after they’d last been used.

In the center of the room, the titular Throne stood, an elaborate affair of wires, cables, actuators and variated displays.

As she stepped into the room, a feeling of revulsion past through, in part because the aura of the Dark Side was particularly noxious in the Throne Room but far more so due to her sense that something was deeply, horribly wrong with the volcano.

“Goldie can you patch us through the fleet?” Nix asked.

There was a crackle on the line rather than a response and Thirty-two answered the hail.

“Looks like you folks could use some help,” he said. “Unsurprisingly, we could too.”

“I thought you beat the Klex armada?” Nix asked.

“We did. You’ll see their ships deorbiting if you’ve got any view of the sky where you are,” Thirty-two said. “Some of them are still in one piece even. Not a piece which contains a working drive system or functional weapons, but there’ll be survivors. Probably.”

“That’s fine,” Nix said. “There’s a new problem though, isn’t there?”

“Yes. A fleet shaped problem,” Thirty-two said.

“What did you do to my fleet?” Sali asked, cutting in on the channel.

“Oh, our fleet is fine, mostly, the Klex got a few shots in, but nothing we can’t scavenge parts from them to fix. No, our fleet problem is shaped more like a dozen new Republic Battle Cruisers.”

“What is the New Republic doing out here? They’d don’t have jurisdiction over Praxis Mar. They didn’t even know this place existed before today,” Ayli said.

“One of the downsides to our fleet being populated almost exclusively by convicted criminals,”  Thirty-two said. “According to their “stand down” order, we’re supposed to surrender so that we can be returned to serve out our proper sentences.”

“And they’re going to shoot you down if you don’t comply?” Nix asked.

“That seems to be the general impression they’re trying to give,” Thirty-two said.

Nix was pacing and flailing her hands as Ayli watched her enter some kind of hyper-focused mode.

“We do not have time for that,” she said. “Like, seriously, no time.”

“Something is drawing near. Something I have never felt,” Ravas said.

“Not something good either,” Kelda said. “It’s like all the Dark Side energy on the planet is being drawn together.”

“We can’t fight that can we?” Ayli said.

“Not at the height of both of our powers,” Kelda said, indicating herself and Ravas.

“And we can’t fight a new Republic Fleet of that size,” Thirty-two said.

Nix paused, her eyes going bright and her fingers dancing.

“And we don’t have to!” she said. “Sali, you can get us out of this!”


“Arrest Thirty-two and the rest of our fleet!”

Star Wars: Treasure of the Force – Ch 43

Nix was glad that Ravas and Kelda were speaking. It had been all too easy to imagine Ravas fleeing once more. Or Kelda falling into the mute silence of needless guilt. It was a minor miracle that a thousand years of separation had needed only a handful of words to bridge the distance. 

Minor miracles were wonderful, and Nix truly appreciated the many she’d been given in the last several weeks.

There was a problem though.

She could feel the weight of the Dark Side pressing in on their little refuge, she could hear the whispers within it, and she could see that they were going to need more than a minor miracle for what came next.

“Who took your body?” Ayli asked Ravas. “It sounds like you know them?”

“Her master,” Nix said, the Force giving her a clear insight into that, and into the sort of monster Scytheus Dread had been. 

“Yes,” Ravas said, hanging her heard and closing her eyes.

“I’m quite sure I killed him,” Kelda said. “I was…thorough.”

“We both had the same treatments,” Ravas said. “Participated in the same rituals. Whatever this state I’m in? He could easily be the same.”

“He’s not,” Nix said, fighting to keep some portion of her attention within the sanctuary cave, “He’s much worse than you. He always was.”

“It is tempting to believe so, but I cannot be absolved of my crimes so easily,” Ravas said.

“I don’t think it’s about what you did in life anymore,” Ayli said. “We need to deal with what you and he have become since then.”

“She’s not a monster,” Kelda said.

“I destroyed your life,” Ravas said. “I’m pretty sure I’m your monster at least.”

“Good,” Kelda said. “Just so long as you remember that you’re mine.”

“Not to ask a question I probably don’t want the answer to, but, if you’re both okay with each other now, why are you still here?” Ayli asked. “Weren’t you bound by your broken connection to each other?”

“He won’t let them leave,” Nix said, unsure if it was safe to refer to Ravas’ former master at all. He was already aware of them though, so it wasn’t like she could avoid attracting his attention she supposed.

“What do you mean?” Ayli said. “How’s he going to stop us.”

“He’s waiting outside,” Nix said. “And he’s not alone.”

“It’s me he wants,” Ravas said. “I’ll go.”

“Like that?” Ayli said, gesturing to Ravas’ translucent form.

“He is as much a spirit of the Force as I am,” Ravas said. “And the one thing he cannot deny me is my own body.”

“Deny you? No. Fight you for control of? We both know the answer to that,” Kelda said.

“Do you think that’s a fight I would lose?” Ravas asked.

“Yes,” Nix said and raised a hand to forestall Ravas’ inevitable protest. “He has the weight of Praxis Mar behind him. If you go to do battle with him, you will have to destroy him. Not kill. He’s already dead. You will have to rip his spirit into some many pieces that they lose all sense of what they once were and dissolve into the Force as unthinking scaps.”

“I assure you, I am well aware of the destruction Scytheus Dread deserves,” Ravas said.

“But it’s not what you deserve,” Nix said. “We didn’t come to this place to destroy a meaningless footnote in history like Scytheus Dread. We came here for you. Letting you destroy yourself moments after reuniting you with the one you should have been with a thousand years ago? Yeah, no, we’re not doing that.”

“I am stronger than he is,” Ravas said. “I will not be destroyed.”

“Yes you will,” Kelda said. “You will be victorious. I have no doubt of that. You never lost a fight ever. I’m not sure you know how to. What will it cost you though? Where will you find the strength you need and what will you lose to do something like that.”

“I will…” Ravas paused, a somber expression pulling her zeal down. “Everything. I will lose everything.”

“Why? What would happen?” Ayli asked.

“If you had to fight for your life would you reach out to the Force?” Nix asked.

“I think I amply demonstrated that,” Ayli said.

“How do you feel now?” Nix asked.

“Better. Still a bit unstable though,” Ayli said. “If I think about what’s out there too much I want to start screaming.”

“That’s from one fight,” Nix said. “Picture if you’d lived your whole life like that and then you were faced with someone you had every reason to hate, who’d stolen your body, and where you’re only option was to inflict spiritual mega-violence on them?”

“Ah,” Ayli said. It wasn’t hard to imagine what drawing on the Dark Side of the Force to that extent would do. 

Which didn’t leave them with all that many tools given that Praxis Mar was drenched in nothing but the Dark Side.

“Can you do anything?” Ayli asked Kelda. “You were a Jedi right? You must know more about this stuff than any of the rest of us.”

“The Jedi teachings were notably lacking in techniques for manipulating the Dark Side or one which allowed you to shred a ghost’s spirit to pieces,” Kelda said. “But I should be the one to face Scytheus. I’ve killed him once already. I can probably lure him deeper into the Force, probably deep enough that he’d be lost forever.”

“Again, nope,” Nix said and turned to Ayli. “And before you even think of volunteering, that’s a hell no to you too. We’re all getting out of here. All of us. That’s the point. We don’t give up on that future, no matter how bad things look. Understood?”

“No worries,” Ayli said with an amused smile. “After our last tussle, I have no illusions that I could beat that thing. We do need a plan though.”

“I’ve got one,” Nix said. “I go out there.”

The three women in the room fixed blank stares on her.

“Not to fight!” Nix amended.

“Scytheus Dread will not talk to you,” Kelda said.

“You cannot reason with him, and you cannot trust anything he says,” Ravas said.

Ayli was silent for a moment though.

“She knows that,” she said eventually, her eyes narrowed in thought. “She has another plan though.”

“What is it?” Ravas asked.

“I have no idea,” Ayli said. “But I trust that she does.”

“It’s pretty simple,” Nix said. “I’m going to become his new apprentice.”

Ravas began to protest but Kelda raised a hand.

“Wait. She’s not the stupid,” Kelda said.

“Thank you. I’m sort of hoping Scytheus will think I am but whether he does or not doesn’t really matter. He needs me or Ayli and if he’s got me right there in front of him he’s not going to be able to pass that up.”

“Why does he need us?” Ayli asked. “He’s already got a body.”

“He does. But it’s dead,” Nix said. “That he can animate it here isn’t that surprising given how deep into the Dark Side this whole planet is. That he can’t animated it elsewhere though? This is a guess but after a thousand years here, this world would have to feel like a prison and Ravas was away from her body for weeks. If Scytheus could leave he would be on a ship somewhere on the other side of the galaxy by now.”

“So instead of Ravas’ body, you think he’ll try to take yours?” Ayli said.

“He will absolutely try to take hers,” Ravas said. “If she lets her defenses down for a moment, he won’t even blink before he tries to possess her.”

“That gets us Ravas’ body freed, unless he can possess both of them?” Ayli said.

“He won’t be able to maintain a hold on Ravas’ body if he’s elsewhere when she takes it back,” Kelda said.

“Okay, so that gets us Ravas back. How do we get Nix back though?” Ayli asked.

“She will have to fight him in her own body,” Kelda said.

“Can you do that?” Ayli asked.

“Nope. Scytheus is much too strong for me to fight.”

–  – –

Nix exited the sanctuary cave to find a small army waiting for her with Ravas’ body at the head of it.

“They sent the Padawan out first?” Scytheus said, clearly annoyed at the implied insult.

“I’m not here to fight,” Nix said. “I know how strong you are here.”

“Oh good, then you’ll be pleading for your life?” Scytheus asked.

“Um, I was thinking more of bargaining?” Nix said.

“And what could you possibly have that would be of value to me,” Scytheus asked, casting the question to the army of wisps and shades he’d drawn forth.

“Probably nothing,” Nix said. “I just thought I could learn from you and then you’d have someone to help you out?”

“And why would I want a wretched little thing like you,” Scytheus asked.

“Well, I’m not terribly useful to you if I’m dead,” Nix said. “You’ve got all these ghosts already. I thought a live assistant would be valuable, wouldn’t it?”

“And for this you would have me spare you?” Scytheus asked.

“Me and my wife,” Nix said. “If nothing bad happens to us, then it’s worth it.”

“Is that true?” Scytheus said. “Let me see inside your mind then.”

As predicted, the moment Nix relaxed a fraction of an inch and met Scytheus’ gaze directly his essence poured forth from Ravas and filled her vision, and hearing, and thoughts.

“Mine!” Scytheus roared, near mindless in his hunger for the spark of life of Nix carried.

“Is that what you think?” Kelda asked.

“He really thought we would let her face him alone?” Ayli’s voice asked in Nix’s mind.

“Greed and stupidity were always his defining traits,” Ravas said, but when she did so it was with her own voice. 

Her very real, very physical voice.

“What? No! NO!” Scytheus rage was echoed by the whole of the planet.

“Scream all you want,” Ayli said. “You can’t have her.”

“I will destroy you!” Scytheus screamed and tried to tear into Nix’s mind.

“No. You won’t,” Kelda said. “I killed you once before, and in death I have become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

“Not here. Not now,” Scytheus said. “You are but a pale flickering shade here Jedi. And we both know the power you had to drawn on to best me.”

“You know I would draw on it again before I would let you hurt anyone of those I’ve chosen to protect,” Kelda said.

“Perhaps you would, but I have legions to fight you with now,” Scytheus said. “And I too have found a greater power in death. One not even the most powerful of Jedi can stand against.”

The ground started to rumble in exactly the sort of manner that volcanoes are not supposed to rumble.

Nix felt something rising and sensed that she hadn’t planned for quite enough contingencies.

Her instinct was simple to leave. 

There wasn’t any reason to fight a crazed Dark Side ghost and his army of minions, there wasn’t any reason to risk any of the people she’d come to this place to save, and there definitely wasn’t any reason to face whatever terror Praxis Mar was about to unleash on them.

But she couldn’t leave.

Praxis Mar’s location was known now. Other people would come to it. Other people Scytheus could hurt or enslave.

“Kelda’s not going to kill you,” Nix said, capturing Scytheus’s attention as she drew forth the gift which Kelda has presented her with in the sanctuary. “I am.” 

With the flick of a switch a brilliant blue blade ignited from the lightsaber handle she held and Nix took the stance the Force guided her too.

Nix had taunted Scytheus to make sure his attention was on her. She ensured it stayed there with a swing which was guided by the Force to cleave Scytheus from shoulder to hip.

He blocked the attack with a barrage of Force Lighting, instinct overtaking the fact that as a ghost the lightsaber didn’t necessarily pose a deadly threat to him.

Ravas however did.

“Never again,” she said as she ripped the last remnants of light from his shade, crushing them in her bare hands as Scytheus’s lightning flared all around her.