Monthly Archives: March 2024

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 26

Darsus did not trust them. He was an fool but not quite that big of a fool it seemed.

Which was perfect.

If he’d been more reasonable then he wouldn’t have walked into Nix’s trap.

Whatever that was.

Ayli was going almost entirely on faith that there was a plan, a trap, or some scheme in Nix’s mind to deal with the problem Darsus, or more precisely Darsus’s six armed retainers, posed. They hadn’t had time to work out any contingencies for a situation like this, in part because it was such a perfectly stupid situation that only Darsus could have been responsible for it.

Kicking herself for not thinking of that wasn’t going to help Ayli at all though, especially not when she had Ravas ghosting around ready to snipe at whatever real or imagined failings she could find. 

Oddly however, Ravas was being quiet. 

Ayli cast a quick glance over at the ghost and found her watching Nix in turn.

Nix was humming a jaunty little tune as she tinkered with a small rod with a trio of glowing lights on its end.

It wasn’t a blaster. Ayli was familiar with a lot of different kit-bashed blaster designs and Nix’s little device was lacking a bunch of key elements – like a focusing muzzle to start with.

“What in the hells is that?” Darsus asked, shoving past one of his bodyguards and into near perfect range for a lightsaber swipe to the throat.

Or she could just shoot him. For as flashy as the red lightsaber was there was still a lot to recommend a good old blaster.

Either option would get her or Nix shot full of blaster bolts from the bodyguards of course. Unless Ayli was fast enough. Which she suspected she might be. 

Or she could let Ravas ‘help’ her. She’d kept the ghost out so far, but she could sense beyond the boundary of that choice the power that waited for her if she was able to draw on Ravas’ training and Ravas could work with a real living being’s connection to the Force.

Ayli wasn’t that desperate yet though. 

She would never be that desperate. She swore that to herself. Or was it a promise? A hope? It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to give herself over to some millenia old witch. She’d fought too hard for the life she had to lose it to anyone or anything at this point.

Which was not a good sign for Darsus or his goons.

And Nix would know that. So what did she have in mind?

“As you can see, the path forward has a pretty simply impediment,” Nix said as they all gathered in the small entryway.

In front of them the atmo-barrier flickered and popped, holding the tide of beyond-freezing coolant at bay like an aquarium’s viewing window. Bubbles and contaminants fizzed in the flood, rendering it effectively opaque, but Ayli had seen how long the corridor was so had a sense of  the sheer volume of coolant they were looking at.

“So find a different door to go in,” Darsus said.

“There isn’t one,” Nix said. “I checked the schematics on the terminal over there,” she gestured to a small pad beside the door. “This place is built with one opening in or out. I guess they wanted to be able to defend it easily, and, you know, kill people who were too weak to pass the test.”

“What test?” Darsus demanded, shaking his blaster, though not yet at Nix.

Lucky for him that meant he got to keep his hand attached to his wrist.

“This is the site of the Second Trial, right?” Nix said. “Well, here it is. The test is ‘get past enough liquid nitrogen to freeze a herd of banthas.”

“That’s impossible,” Darsus said.

“Not if you take your time,” Ayli said. “When it warms up it evaporates.”

“How long does that take?” Darsus asked.

“Could vary a lot,” Nix said. “I think this one would take at least a week, and that’s with the trap being designed to be cleared out. I guess there might be an option to clear it in a day or maybe even an hour, but the controls for that are definitely on the other end of the corridor.”

“We’re not waiting a week,” Darsus said.

“I agree. We’ve got a better option after all.” She brandished the device she’d been working on. “Unlike the people they brought here when the Cult was a public thing, we don’t have to care about passing their tests how they intended us to. All we need to do is get through using whatever tools we can.”

“That thing?” Darsus asked, pointing towards Nix’s device with his blaster. That was almost close enough to justify separating his arm from his  hand but Ayli held her ground. 

Nix was working, interrupting would be rude. 

And probably fatal.

“The actual applicants wouldn’t have had personal forcefield generators. All we need to do is push the liquid nitrogen away as we walk though and we’ll be fine.”

“Wait, that’s a forcefield generator?” Darsus asked, looking to his goons for confirmation.

“Well, not a full one,” Nix said. “The power drain for a real forcefield generator would mean something this size could only put one up for about a tenth of a second. I don’t need to screen high intensity things like blaster fire though. Just the liquid gas. Which is much easier.”

“Why did you have something like that on you?” Darsus asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion. 

“I didn’t. I built it,” Nix said. “Well, cobbled it together. I had the parts in my toolkit but it took a little work to make it so they would work how I want. Should work. I haven’t tested it yet. Might need a few tweaks.”

“Should work?” Darsus asked.

“Will work,” Nix said. “This will definitely work. A few tweaks and it will be safe as anything. We should all be able to fit inside the bubble it makes with no problem. We’ll want to be careful about touching the walls of course, those will be super cold, and disrupting them could pop the bubble, but that’s simple avoid, so we will definitely be safe.”

“What happens if the power on that thing dies,” Darsus asked.

“It’s not going to lose power. I build good stuff,” Nix said.

“But what if it does?”

“Well, that’ll be fine too. We won’t feel a thing. We’ll freeze and probably crumble to ice cubes faster than our nerves can process the signal.” Nix didn’t look concerned about that. In fact it sounded like that would be an excellent result in her book.

“We’re staying here,” Darsus said. 

“You don’t have to,” Nix said. “There’ll be a lot more of the complex to explore once we pass the Trial.”

“Only one entrance and exit though right?” Darsus said.

“Yeah. They were pretty paranoid I guess. I mean we could try to blast a new entrance in but until we know where the coordinates for the Third Trial are kept, there’s a decent chance we’d be erasing them and making the real treasure impossible to find.”

“We’re staying here,” Darsus said. “If you’re not back in an hour, we blast the place to rubble and let the bots work out how to put it back together.”

“They don’t work like…you know what, never mind,” Ayli said, forcing down her irritation before it could ruin the scheme Nix so clearly had in mind.

“Can we have two hours?” Nix asked. “There might be a lot to explore in there. And I might have to build a different gadget for the next trap.”

“One hour. That’s it,” Darsus said.

“We’ll just have to work quick then, I guess,” Nix said. “Suppose we better get to it. Sixty minutes. Sheesh. I better make sure this thing doesn’t overheat.”

With that she stepped forward and raised the device she was carrying to be level with her eye line. Beyond the atmo-barrier, a dimple formed in the coolant.

“Let’s get going,” Nix said, holding her free hand out for Ayli to take.”

“No,” Darsus said. “She stays here.”

“I need someone to come with me,” Nix said. “They’ll need to hold this device while I work on the control mechanism at the other end of the hall. It’s simple work, so maybe you want to do it instead?”

“I wouldn’t mind staying here where it’s nice and warm,” Ayli said.

She watched the conflicting emotions war in Darsus before he finally came to a decision.

“Fine. You go. But you’ve got an hour. And the clock is already counting down.”

Ayli took Nix’s hand and let herself be pulled into the bubble that formed in the coolant.

They’d taken no more than two steps into the flood before Nix stopped.

“Do me a favor,” she said. “Stab the atmo-barrier’s projectors here and here.” She gestured to two spots on opposite sides of the corridor at about head height.

Ayli flicked the red blade to life with glee in her heart and struck exactly where Nix had indicated.

The sound from beyond the barrier was delightful.

It didn’t fail all at once. Instead it began to flicker and spring leaks. One after the other. Each jetting out a stream of super-cooled liquid. Darsus got clipped by one in some unfortunately non-fatal part of the anatomy and began swearing and calling for his goons to open fire.

Which they did.

The blaster bolts were not especially effective against the meter or so of coolant shielding Nix and Ayli, but they were quite excellent at accelerating the damage to the atmo-barrier.

“Think they’ll run in time?” Nix asked. “I was figuring they would but now I’m not so sure.”

Darsus’s scream of panic rose over the sound of blasterfire and began rapidly retreating.

“Yeah, they’ll be fine,” Ayli said. “How long will your gadget really hold out though?”

“Oh? This?” Nix said and stuffed the device back into her waistbelt. “This is a loop verifier with a grade B cycle adjuster. Looks pretty though right?”

“Wait. What’s making this bubble then?” Ayli asked.

“I am,” Nix said. “And we should get going because I’d really like to be gone by the time they come back here to see what happened to us.”

“How are you…?” Nix started to ask.

“She’s trained with someone,” Ravas said.

“Yeah. You two,” Nix said.

“That’s not possible,” Ravas said. “You have skills it would take a Jedi a lifetime to master.”

“Maybe they were really lazy?” Nix said. “Or there were other things they had to work on? I’ve been moving stuff like engine components around for a long time though. This isn’t all that different. Except for the part where I don’t have to touch the things I’m moving.”

“No. The Force…you can’t be that strong in the Force. You don’t have any anger to drive your power.”

If Ayli didn’t know better, she would have sworn that Ravas was having a crisis of faith right in front of her.

But shouldn’t ghosts be beyond that sort of thing?

“I don’t need anger. I’m not making this happen,” Nix said. “The Force wants this as much as I do. I’m just…I don’t know, here to help it focus in this moment? Wait, do you have to demand that it do things for you?”

“That’s what focus is!” Ravas said. “Honing your mind to project your will into the world. Making the Force obey your desires. Having the strength to claim the power to make things as you wish them to be.”

“Take my hand,” Nix said, offering her other hand to the ghost. “Feel what I feel. It’s not like that at all. It doesn’t have to be. It’s not a battle. It’s a partnership. We’re together. Ayli and me. And the Force too. Even you. All of us.”

Ravas looked at Nix’s hand like it was the most venomous of serpents, the stark terror of recognition repelling her with the force of a gale wind. 

“You’ve spoken to her,” Ravas said, fear drenching every word, and vanished completely.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 25

Being dunked in liquid nitrogen was not a typical hazard for a starship mechanic. The cooling lines to various components tended to be better behaved than that, and most didn’t carry anywhere near as much of the liquified gas as the trap which had dumped its contents on Nix’s head.

It hadn’t been foresight which saved her, or not exactly foresight. As she stepped across the threshold, the Force had spoken with perfect clarity to let her know that she was in danger from literally every direction.

So she’d pushed it away.

All of it.

In every direction.

The effort had driven her to her knees but with both arms extended she was able to maintain the bubble of space that the liquid nitrogen was flowing around.

It was still really damn cold though.

“NIX!” Ayli yelled from only a few meters behind her, and a new warmth entered Nix’s heart.

“I’m okay!” she yelled back, adjusting to the weight of the freezing liquid and struggling back up to the her feet.

“She doesn’t have the strength for this,” Ravas said, her voice carrying through the barrier between them without any of the muffling that Ayli’s had.

A spark of irritation lit in Nix’s heart at Ravas’s claim and with it the load she was carrying seemed to lighten.

That wasn’t what she needed.

She could feel the whole spire around her was suffused with memories of loss and pain. It was tempting beyond measure to snap back at it, or to cut it off.

I tried to turn away from it, a familiar voice whispered in her mind from a place more distant than the stars, Which worked to a degree. It was what I’d been trained to do, to rise above, to find clarity by creating emotional distance.

Is that what I should do? Nix asked, feeling that wasn’t the right answer somehow.

Which was all the answer she received.

She listened for a long moment, hoping Kelda might speak to her again. In the distance, Ayli and Ravas were arguing but Nix wasn’t listening for them. She was focused on the brighter, more hopeful side of the Force. 

Which was almost as drowned here as she was.

This was not a place where good things happened.

This was not a place where people had been kind to one another.

This was not a place where people had even lived. It was built for a purpose and that purpose was as mechanical and unbalanced as its engineers could make it.

Nix noticed that the liquid nitrogen was not getting any lighter. The sensible action was to go back. They could wait for the flood to warm up and evaporate as gas. In the worst case, the rebreathers in their masks would prevent them from suffocating in an all nitrogen environment and they could explore at their leisure.

Except, if Nix was making a trap like this, she would definitely make sure it was able to recondense a fresh supply of liquid nitrogen in the time one flood’s worth was able to evaporate.

By that logic, she should move forward. She took a few steps in that direction and felt the liquid nitrogen sloshing around her. She could keep going. A corridor full of liquid was heavy but she had this. She could keep going.

But did she want to?

Ahead of her, the first ice covered statue awaited. The figure was humanoid, but so covered in ice, Nix couldn’t tell what species it was supposed to be beyond that broad description. It’s pose was one of supplication and terror, fallen to it’s near with one hand raised in despair to ward off the doom which had clearly claimed it.

That was what awaited Nix if she failed. She knew that as certainly as she knew she would not fail.

Ayli sounded so far away, but that was due to the muffling effect of the liquid between them.  And because Nix was still moving away from her.

Nix stopped.

The creators of this trial had engineered it to isolate the applicants. It drowned you and it was only through your own strength that you could win through to the far side, emerging reborn from the cruel baptism or left behind like the statue as a frozen testament to those who dared challenge a trial they were too weak for.

Nix wasn’t too weak. Even as drenched in the Dark Side as the spire was, she could still feel the Force flowing through her, life sheltering life. The original engineers had envisioned that but they hadn’t counted on putting another engineer to the test.

With a contended smile, Nix reversed her course and walked back to where Ayli was waiting.

“You’re alive!” Ayli said and grabbed into a fierce hug the moment she was through the atmo-barrier that was keeping the liquid nitrogen out of the entry chamber.

“And running away,” Ravas said, though neither woman paid her any attention.

“Come on, you knew that,” Nix teased, guessing more than knowing that Ayli had been able to sense her presence.

“Don’t do that to me again,” Ayli said, parting from Nix and giving her what passed for a stern look.

“I won’t. In fact I think this will work better with if we both go in there,” Nix said.

“Imagine that. Just like I’d said?”

“Yes, but this time I have a plan for what we can do.”

“Is this a plan I’m going to hate?”

“I don’t think so,” Nix said. “It involves stabbing things with the lightsaber.”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s no one in there to stab though?” Ravas said.

“We don’t need to stab someone,” Nix said. “We need to stab something. Specifically the delivery nozzles for the liquid nitrogen.”

“Won’t that mean they’ll dump more liquid nitrogen on us?” Ayli asked.

“Right now the tunnel is still pretty full,” Nix said. “There’ll be vents to let the gas escape as it warms up, otherwise this whole place would explode the first time the trap was triggered. If we lightsaber the nozzles, the machines that condense the gas will be stuck permanently refreshing the supply. Since it’s probably not designed for extended duty, it’ll probably fry itself in a couple of days or so. Then we can wait a bit, let the the flood in there evaporate completely, and walk around at our leisure.”

“Won’t that much coolant take a long time to evaporate though?” Ayli asked.

“Typically, yeah, but that can vary a lot based on the materials its interacting with. Also, unless I miss my guess, they’re venting the waste heat from the compressor underneath the floor of the corridor,” Nix said. “I don’t think you’d want to have a trap like this and then not be able to get into your base for a month or more.”

“Or you could just perform the trial as it’s meant to be performed,” Ravas said.

“You mean, rush right into the trap and stumble on the second trap which is obviously waiting for us before we clear the first one?” Ayli asked.

“Your strength is great enough to overcome all of the obstacles in here,” Ravas said.

“And my intellect is sharp enough to know when to listen to my wife,” Ayli said and threw an accusatory glance at Nix.

“The Klex’s won’t be happy,” Nix said. “But I think that’s a good thing. If Darsus gets bored enough he might either leave, or do something stupid.”

“Which could be bad for us,” Ayli noted as that it were by far the most likely outcome.

“It could be, but there’s not a lot of ‘good for us’ options in how this ends,” Nix said.

“Unless Sali and Zin are able to do something about that battlecruiser,” Ayli said.

“They’ve got Goldie to help them,” Nix said. “She’s not built for cracking battlecruiser command systems but she should be able to keep them off the Klex’s scanners unless they do something really loud.”

“With Sali I’d say ‘loud’ would be the most subtle we could hope for, but Zin’s got a better head on her shoulders than that.”

“So, you’re okay with this plan then?” Nix asked.

“It’s going to annoy the Klex’s so it seems like a perfect one to me,” Ayli said. “We should comm them as soon as we’re done though. Days without a message from us will yield very different actions than if they know we’re stuck here, waiting.”

“Maybe we comm them first?” Nix suggested. “Giving them the impression that they get a say in what goes on here might increase their patience a bit.”

Ayli grumbled and shrugged. “You’re probably right. Let me do the talking through. Better if they think of you as just the ship’s mechanic.”

Raising the Klex battlecruiser meant venturing out of entrance chamber and into the disguised hangar where they’d left their shuttle.

Which was how they saw that it hadn’t taken long at all for Darsus to grow bored enough to do something stupid.

“I knew you’d run away!” he said, from behind the safety of six of his father’s armed guards.

“Oh good, you’re here. That saves us a comm,” Ayli said, refusing to break her stride towards their shuttle. “Let your father know that there’s a trap, which we expected obviously, and that we’ll be dismantling it. Looks like it’s going to take about a week to get past it.”

“I’m not your message boy,” Darsus said. “And you don’t have a week. Get by it now.”

“The tunnel to get through is filled with freezing coolant,” Ayli said. “It’s going to take a week, at a minimum for it to evaporate.”

“Not my problem. Get through it.” Darsus stepped in front of his goons, his blaster already in his hand.

“Don’t taunt your enemies,” Ravas said, walking directly behind Ayli.

“Really Darsus?” Ayli said, not bothering to reach for either her blaster or her lightsaber. “What’s your play here? You’re going to shoot me for calling your father?”

“I might shoot you just because I feel like it,” Darsus said, blaster shaking just a little in his hand.

Nix could feel the Dark Side rising. This was not the sort of place to have tense standoffs. It wanted violence and it needed death.

How do I stop this? she asked, hoping Kelda, or anyone might have the answer.

I usually used a lightsaber to deal with situations like this, Kelda said. Can’t say it was a great option then, not sure if it’s a great option now.

Which was as helpful as Nix had expected.

If a lightsaber wasn’t the solution though what other tools did she have to work with?

She breathed in and tried to draw the possibilities to herself.

If she tried to interrupt, Darsus would shoot her. For certain. And then Ayli could cut him in half. Possibly she’d carve up the rest of the guards too. Possibly they’d fill her full of blaster bolts before she could manage it. That would depend on how much aid Ravas provided. Nix might survive – dodging a blaster bolt at the range they were at would be difficult but moving enough not to get hit anywhere too vital was theoretically possible. The other guard though would fire far too many blasts for her to avoid given that there was no cover to work with.

Alternatively, she could try to force push Darsus and his minions out of the cave. The Spire was definitely happy with that idea. It wasn’t quite as visceral of a slaughter as it would prefer but all those bodies dashed to pieces at its base would add nicely to pool of Dark Side energy which wreathed the Spire.

Most other violent solutions ran to the same end, through either more direct or more subtle means.

What I need is some way to turn this place against itself, she thought and received and feeling of approval from Kelda in the far distance.

Which was, of course, the answer.

“Hey, Ayli,” she called out. “Why don’t we deal with the trap now? We don’t want Darsus to get too frosty on us.”

Ayli’s hand had dropped to her side where the lightsaber hung, but she paused and met Nix’s gaze before nodding. She didn’t know what was coming next, but that was okay. Neither did Darsus.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 24

Dedlos was, if anything, even less tolerant of living beings infesting its surface than Lednon Three had been. Where Lednon had been wracked by a mega-storm which only threatened to electrocute would-be interlopers, Dedlos was a bit colder in its menace.

“It’s so cold there the atmosphere has frozen,” Nix said. “We’re going to need special gear to even attempt the Second Trial.”

“No you won’t,” Ravas said. Ulno Klex, Darsus and their bodyguards couldn’t hear her, but Ayli and Nix could which made it all the more infuriating when the ghost failed to provide any follow up information since asking her for clarity would have made them both seem too unhinged for Ulno to continue working with. As a method of getting booted out an airlock went, speaking to people who weren’t there would have been an undeniably effective one, so Ayli settled for glaring briefly in Ravas’ direction.

“The Children of the Storm set these up to con their marks,” Ayli said. “If people felt they’d passed the tests because they were wearing a lot of tech, they would have been less invested, both emotionally and financially. There must be a hidden base on the surface somewhere that we could dock with.

“I have this sneaking suspicion that the Children conveniently never mentioned anything about that when they told you we’d be arriving in this system, did they?” Nix asked, turning away from the 3d projection table of the planet to look at Ulno Klex.

“Quite surprisingly they did,” Ulno said. “They even provided coordinates for the ‘sacred site’ you were intent on looting next.” He spun the globe and tapped his finger on the center of a landmass in the northern hemisphere. “It is, as you might imagine, an empty shell and quite clearly a trap.”

Ayli spun globe so the ‘sacred site” face her and then gestured to zoom in for a ground level view.

“Oh yeah, that is a great place to kill people,” she said, which Ravas sniffed at. The ghost had clearly been looking forward to pointing out how foolish it would be to go there, but in Ayli’s line of work, picking through the ruins of ancient civilization wasn’t something you got to do more than once if you weren’t observant for dangers they contained.

“Is that an atmosphere dome they have setup over it?” Nix asked.

“That’s the first part of the trap,” Ayli said. “Any permanent installation on a world like this would be built into permanent atmosphere enclosures. Powered domes are for temporary camps or if you want to be able to turn them off an expose everyone inside to the native atmosphere with the flick of a switch.

“So we would need suits to explore it anyways, great,” Nix said.

“Not just suits, powered suits,” Ayli said. “The frozen atmosphere is partially liquid. It will steal heat a lot faster than vacuum will.”

“And powered suits can be detected, which will set off the other traps,” Nix said with resigned understanding.

“Also, that place is visible from space. A simple scan of the surface would pick it out a hundred times out of a hundred. On a planet they erased from the galactic nav charts.”

“That does seem a little sloppy,” Nix said, continuing to study the globe.

“You’re the ones who seem sloppy,” Darsus said, pacing around the outskirts of the room. “We should be sending them in now. Is the point that they’re expendable?”

“You really have no idea how to get the most out of your investments do you?” Ayli asked, without really thinking about it.

She’d run into Darsus a few times before the whole debacle with the Goldrunner started, and repeated exposure had only solidified her opinion that he was two brain cells short of having a pair of them.

“She’s correct,” Ulno said before Darsus could open his mouth and make the situation worse somehow. “There’s no point sending our guests to explore a location of no value. If we wanted to kill them, we have plenty of options here, and none of those incur fuel costs or the potential loss of a shuttle.”

“We could send them in their shuttle.” Darsus’ objection was the whining of a five year old who really wanted to break one of his toys.

“I thought you’d claimed the Goldrunner as your own?” Nix said. “I guess this means we still own her?”

Darsus growl of rage was held in place by Ulno’s chuckle of amusement. The bodyguards didn’t move or make a sound in either direction but Ayli noticed one of the fighting to suppress a smile too.

“We have an advantage in searching for the right place,” Ayli said, dragging the topic of conversation away from humiliating Darsus. 

“The liquid atmosphere?” Nix guessed. “It would prevent them from building anything in the lowland areas. And the seas are all frozen solid.”

“You can carve things into ice,” Darsus said, as though Nix was an idiot for not considering that.

“Under ice bases would need tunnels to the surface,” Ulno said. “And the gaps in the ice would be both unusual and detectable, though not without some effort.”

“Also, if the planet every goes through a warming phase, your ice walls would flood into the base. Or you could use regular walls and hope the extreme temperature changes don’t create cracks in them,” Ayli said. “So, they’re not in the oceans. And they’re not anywhere too low.”

“I do hope you’re not going to propose a full geological survey of the planet’s mountain ranges?” Ulno asked.

“If I thought I could get you to pay for one, I absolutely would, but given that the portable treasure here is going to be minimal, I assume that’s not in the budget?”

“It is refreshing to deal with a professional,” Ulno said.

“Well then in my professional opinion, this is where we want to look,” Ayli said, pointing to a small island that was covered in mist with a single spire rising from it.

“Seems rather isolated, on a planet where there’s nothing in particular to be isolated from?” Ulno said.

“That’s one draw, though there are at least fifty places that are about as isolated,” Ayli said. “The mist is the real pull though.”

“There’s mist all over the place,” Darsus said.

“Yeah, in scattered patches, here and there, with one commonality to all of them except this place,” Ayli said.

“They’re all in deep crevasses? Huh, why is that?” Nix asked.

“They aren’t crevasses, or at least not natural ones,” Ayli said. “Someone fought a war here a long time ago. Those cracks are from Mantle Breaker bombs.”

That she’d seen the effects of far more recent detonations was a fact she didn’t intend to share with anyone in the room. The sight of the ancient aftereffects of ones brought back enough unpleasant memories as it was, the last thing she needed was to dwell on those thoughts any further.

“It’s why this planet is so strong in the Dark Side,” Ravas said. “Even a thousand years later, the ones who died here still call out in rage against their fates.”

“What’s causing the mists then?” Darsus asked. “No one’s dropping bombs on it anymore.

“Mantle Breaker bombs cause massive seismic shocks to a planet. You can destroy most infrastructure with them, and you will definitely leave scars in the crust that extend down to the magma layers if the planet is still geologically active.”

“So the magma is boiling the atmosphere back to a gaseous state?” Nix asked. “Sounds unstable.”

“It is, but on geologic timescales,” Ayli said. “In the meantime, I’m guessing the view from the top of that spire is breathtaking.”

“And a perfect sales tool for the cult’s scheme,” Nix said. “We’ll still need to wear suits when we go down there though.”

“Do a quick scan. I’m betting we’ll only need breathing masks,” Ayli said, wishing for a moment that Zindiana was able to back her up on that. She could sense the nun, as her pirate queen, had secreted themselves in the duct work nearby, but conversing with them would be even worse than talking to Ravas.

Ayli wasn’t sure how Zindiana had convinced Sali not to come into either the throne room or the war room with guns blazing, but Ayli was glad they’d worked that out. The last thing she needed was more chaos in a situation where they were already dancing on a knife’s edge.

“You knew?” Nix asked as the scan completed.

“With the frozen atmosphere melting in the magma at the base of that mountain, you’ll have gas ascending and thinning out until it refreezes.. If it was going to be useful as a base, you’d want to pick a spot on it where the air pressure was close to galactic nominal.”

“There’s got to be a lot of places like that though,” Darsus said.

“Probably, but none of the others are setup so you can watch snow fall upward,” Ayli said.

An hour later, Ayli landed of the Klex shuttles through what she refused to call ‘snow falling upward’.

“That was a damn blizzard!” she yelled to be heard over the howling, icy winds.

“WHAT?” Nix yelled back, not a square inch of her visible with the heavy parka and face mask she was wearing.

“INSIDE!” Ayli pointed towards the richly ornamented door hidden at the back of the shallow cave they’d discovered.

“It might be trapped,” Nix was still yelling but it was easier to hear her as they moved away from the winds.

“Save your time, it’s not,” Ravas said. “No one want to fumble for their keys with all that going on out there.

Ayli smiled in appreciation as Nix gave the door a quick inspection nonetheless. Trusting Ravas would have been an easy habit to fall into given that the ghost had been consistently helpful lately. Easy and probably also fatal, so Ayli was pleased to see Nix was still taking the implicit threat of Rava’s presence seriously.

“She’s right. No one has set anything up on it recently,” Nix said, which stopped the impending ‘I told you so’ Ravas had been preparing.

Inside they were greeted with a long, mural covered corridor.

“This is the test,” Ravas said.

“Walking down a corridor doesn’t seem like much of a test,” Ayli said, knowing it would not be that simple.

“A corridor? Are you inside already then?” Ulno Klex asked over the small holocom Nix was holding.

Part of the condition for sending the two of them to the planet had been that they stay in constant contact with the Klex Cartel’s battlecruiser. Ulno had promised that he would glass the planet’s surface if required to prevent their escape, and Ayli had no doubt that he would keep his word on that.

“You should be seeing what we’re seeing,” Nix said. “Let me adjust the feed to get through the rock and atmosphere.”

The device squeed in her hand and then snapped into perfect clarity.

“Looks safe enough,” Darsus said. “Send ‘em in.”

“No,” Nix said. “It’s not safe.”

“We are well aware of that Ms, Lamplighter,” Ulno said. “May I remind you that is why we have allowed you to undertake this endeavor?”

“She means walking in there blindly is stupid,” Ayli said. “This place looks simple because its a puzzle.”

“They’re just afraid to go. Or they’re stalling,” Darsus said. “Maybe hoping some will swoop in and save them.”

No one ever swooped in to save anyone. Ayli knew that, and she certainly wasn’t waiting for it.

“Okay,” Nix said. “Let me go in first.”

“We go together,” Ayli said.

“We work the problem together,” Nix said. “That doesn’t mean we have to march in lockstep. Let me go in first and you can bail me out of whatever trouble we find. If we go together there’ll be no one on the other side of the trap to free us from it.”

Ayli discovered she hated it when Nix was both reasonable and right.

“I should be the one to go first then,” she said.

“Yeah, except I called dibs,” Nix said and skipped into the corridor.

And an instant later an avalanche of liquid nitrogen filled the passage.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 23

Nix had been right. In general terms. If she’d had more specific information available about what waited for them when they dropped back to regular space, they might have avoided being captured at all. Ayli had certainly made a game attempt at evading capture but once they got stuck in a tractor beam there wasn’t much she could do that wouldn’t tear the Goldrunner to pieces.

“So very nice to make your acquaintance at last,” Ulno Klex said as Nix and Ayli were marched into his throne room. Which was to say, the room he’d outfitted on his battle cruiser to impress those who were easily awed by the scenery. 

Nix had never met Ulno Klex before, and hadn’t expected to meet him at all given that he was supposed to be dead, but she’d run into enough people with towering egos like his that she knew how their encounter was going to go from the moment they stepped in the room.

“You are surprised I am the one who captured you?” Ulno asked, rising from him throne and pacing on the dias it rested on. 

Behind him six guards with blaster rifles at the ready were doing their very best to look menacing and dead serious, despite the absurdity of their boss trying to impress a historian and a mechanic and, apparently, failing for unknown reasons.

“We did meet a couple of bounty hunters who seemed to think your next of kin had put a price on our heads,” Ayli said.

She did not have her lightsaber.

They’d agreed that while she’d made a lot of progress with it, carrying one would send exactly the wrong sort of message to their captors.

“Indeed, very fortunate that the galaxy was so easily convinced of my demise by a paltry few credits,” Ulno said. 

Nix had expected him to be outwardly grotesque somehow, but apart from the implied threat of the faux-military regalia he wore, there was nothing terribly remarkable about the man. Human, like an outsized portion of the galaxies population. Moderate height and build. Blonde hair shading to gray. Even his features were bland. It was as though someone had shaken together the least interesting qualities the galactic community possessed and poured them into a bag of ego problems that liked to hear itself speak.

“Isn’t it a bit embarrassing to let people think you’d been killed by nobodies like us?” Nix asked. She didn’t want to be Ulno’s friend. A part of her wanted to shove him through enough bulkheads that he popped out into the vacuum of space. And then just popped. That, however, was not an option. Nor was it a particularly wise idea given what channeling the Force with such hate-filled intentions could do to her.

“Oh, not in the slightest,” Ulno said. “You see you are among the galaxy’s premier assassins. No on has heard of you before of course because that is the mark of a premier assassin, is it not?”

“Did you pay off the real assassins?” Ayli asked.

“Pay?” Ulno sounded offended. “Why would I pay for people when they already work for me?”

Ayli closed her eyes and shook her head in disbelief.

“This can’t get any stupider,” she said.

“I assure you, this whole stratagem has been quite brilliant,” Ulno said. “With my untimely demise, over a hundred warrants on almost as many worlds have gone null and void. Not to mention how easily it allowed me to smoke out those who thought to they were in a position to usurp my throne. Tell me, how is my dear Saliandris?”

“You’re the one who’s got her.” Ayli’s lie held exactly the proper tone of resentment for the loss of a friend who was also a major aggravation. “Don’t pretend like we’re not supposed to have figured that out.”

Ulno stopped pacing.

He was puzzled.

Mostly because he definitely did not have Sali, and yet Ayli sounded so certain in her accusations that even he had to wonder at that for a moment. The guards behind him glanced at one another as though trying to work out which of them might have captured the pirate queen and not told their boss.

“Alas,” Ulno said. “You are our only guests at present.”

“So, you’ve spaced her already,” Ayli said. “Probably what she deserved. The jerk.”

Again, sadness lingered behind Ayli’s words just long enough that even Nix had to force herself to remember that neither Sali nor Zindiana had fallen into the clutches of the Klex cartel, thanks largely to the Goldrunner’s unadvertised smuggling modifications and some cleverly timed fake battle damage Nix had arranged.

“She…I’m afraid you are supposing scenarios which have yet come to pass,” Ulno said. “We have not apprehended your friend yet. Rest assured we will though.”

Ayli chuckled, and Nix used the distraction to reach out with her senses, searching for Sali and Zin.

They’d left the hidden compartment at Goldie’s signal. Both were in good health still, and neither had been spotted yet despite being quite close by.

Too close by.

Nix grimaced. Sali was not in a pleasant or forgiving mood. Zindiana wasn’t in any sort of mood at all. Together the two of them were committed to mayhem and murder, though not necessarily in that order.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to lie,” Ayli said. “She wasn’t much of a friend. If you spaced her, I can’t really blame you.”

Nix felt a flash of annoyance from Sali, who was apparently close enough to have heard Ayli’s comment.

“Seriously, she interrupted so many of my deals, I was probably a couple of days from spacing her myself before your goons got to her,” Ayli said. She’d felt Sali’s presence too and was performing for two audiences.

“And which goons would those be?” Ulno asked, suspicion radiating from every pour.

“The one’s at Galvus Station,” Ayli said.

“You escaped from Galvus,” Ulno said. “Quite cleverly I might add.”

“They weren’t that clever,” Darsus Klex said, strolling into the room from the door behind Ayli and Nix. “They fell right into our trap.”

Ayli laughed again.

“This was your Dad’s trap,” she said. “You had nothing to do with it.”

Nix caught feel the surge of anger boil out of Darsus even without turning to see him. Darsus’s anger didn’t lessen at all when his father burst out laughing.

“This one has your number little Darcy,” Ulno said. “And of course you are correct,” he added with a nod towards Ayli. “The galaxy is already under the impression that I was foolish enough expose myself to an assassin. We don’t want to foster even the smallest doubts of my capabilities when I reveal my survival.”

“Little Darcy?” Nix whispered with a suppressed laugh, just loud enough to be certain that Darsus would be able to hear it.

She felt rather than heard him draw his blaster.

“I don’t think you want him to do that,” Nix said. Her hands were locked in restraints but she was still able to waggle a couple of fingers towards Ulno. She wasn’t pushing him away physically, and she knew she didn’t need to gesture with her hands to use the Force even if she had been trying to fo that. Nonetheless, it did feel right to toss a bit of persuasive energy behind her words with a physical gesture. Irrational. Probably useless. But her hindbrain liked it and who was she to argue with ancient instincts.

“I don’t want him to shoot you?” Ulno asked, the mildest hint of confusion in his voice. “And why would that be?”

“If you wanted to shoot us, you could have just blown up the Goldrunner,” Nix said. “Or shot us and threw us out an airlock instead of wasting your time.”

When they’d exited hyperspace, Nix had been pretty certain that’s how things would play out, but a tiny part of her had been worried that her certainty might have stemmed from wishful thinking more than accurate premonitions that Force was providing.

“You are most astute, Miss…erm, Mechanic?” Ulno said.

Because why bother learning a mechanics name? She clearly wasn’t anyone important.

“It just made sense and I figured you didn’t get to be where you are without being pretty smart,” Nix said.

“Not like you,” Darsus said. He was still holding his blaster but Nix could sense that he was cowed. To shoot now would be a defiance of his father, and Darsus wasn’t ready to make that play yet.

“I’m guessing you want us to explore Dedlos for you?” Ayli said.

“And why would I want you to do that I wonder?” Ulno said, clearly pleased that people were working out his scheme.

“Lednon Three was a nightmare of traps and ancient guardians,” Ayli said. “I’m guessing your fond enough of Little Darcy there that you’d prefer to send someone more expendable to risk the dangers of the Second Trial.”

“I do so love my boy, that is true,” Ulno lied.

“My only question is what’s in it for us?” Ayli asked.

“You get to keep breathing,” Darsus said, raising his blaster and placing the barrel against the back of Ayli’s head.

Nix wasn’t sure she could manage any sort of fine control with the Force yet, so crippling the blaster was out of the question. Shoving Darsus’s hand aside the moment he thought of tightening his finger on the trigger however was quite definitely in her wheel house. If Darsus and the gun happened to be slammed through one of the bulkheads that would be a real shame. Nix thought she might even lose two to three whole minutes of sleep over it.

“Breathing’s nice,” Ayli said. “Treasure’s nicer though.”

“And what sort of treasure do you imagine we would let you keep?” Ulno asked.

“The best kind,” Ayli said. “The stuff you don’t care about.”

“I don’t care about you,” Darsus said.

“Oh, good, then you won’t care if I go back to my ship and never bother being in the same system as you again?” Ayli said.

“That’s my ship,” Darsus said. “You stole it.” 

“Did I?” Ayli asked. “Most have taken it from a real idiot then, cause I’m a pretty talentless thief.”

Darsus decided to shoot her and acted on that instinct in a heartbeat. Nix had felt any warning of danger though because his finger never got to tighten on the trigger. 

“Don’t taunt your foes,” Ravas said to no one except Ayli and Nix. “Kill them or avoid them. Making them angry only gives them resolve and strength.”

And entices them to make hasty and thoughtless decisions, but Nix didn’t have the luxury of speaking freely like Ravas did.

“I’m impressed. Most people who taunt Darcy like that wind up as disagreeable messes for the staff to clean up,” Ulno said as Darsus dropped his blaster to his side and shook his head to clear his thought from the static Ravas had filled his mind with. “He must see something useful in you.”

“We can be useful to each other,” Ayli said. “We’ll figure out how to bypass the Second Trial like we did the First. You can take all the treasure you want from the temple, and the location of the Third Trial. Leave us the facility, intact please, and I’ll have a historical site that I can write a thousand papers about. It’ll make my career.”

“And if you fail?” Ulno asked.

“Have you lost anything if we do?” Ayli asked.

“Our friends among the Children of the Storm will not be pleased to have their sacred sites raided,” Ulno said.

“The Second Trial doesn’t have much of value at it, aside from the location of the Third Trial,” Ayli said. “And I know they’ve kept that a secret from you.”

“Do you now?” Ulno asked.

“That’s where their treasure really lies,” Ayli said. “Without that, they wouldn’t have any means of paying you for the supplies and services you provide them, and if you knew where it was, why would you bother bartering for the loot when you have a battlecruiser and can just go and take it?”

Ulno laughed, and there was no kindness in it.

“I like how you think,” he said. “We are going to have a most profitable relationship.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 22

Ayli was married to a maniac. She was convinced of this even before Nix called the start to the bizarre game she’d made up for them.

“I get what you and I are doing,” Ayli said, holding a lit lightsaber blade three finger-widths from her wife’s face. “But why is she here?” 

She pointed to the ghost of Ravas Durla, who, as a ghost, didn’t have much to worry about from bumping into an energy arc that was capable of carving through blast doors.

How did I let her talk me into this? This is insane! Ayli kept repeating those words to herself but they did not make the situation any saner with repetition.

“Your challenge is to keep your blade from getting farther than the width of my hand away from me as we move,” Nix said, as cheerfully unconcerned as only a person who’d spent a week growing back bodily organs in a Bacta tank could be. “My challenge is to keep my hands aligned with hers without touching them.”

“How will you know if you touch her though?” Ayli asked, still deeply unclear what the point of the exercise was.

“I’ll electrocute her if she does,” Ravas said.

Ayli stiffened at that. 

No one got to hurt Nix. Even the thought made her blood boil and her grip tighten on the saber’s hilt

“Hey, I’ll be okay,” Nix said, running her fingertips along Ayli’s outstretched arm. Ayli felt the tension run out of her like a slowly receding wave.

“Arrogant,” Ravas said, but there was an expression on the ghost’s face that suggested she was as puzzled by Nix’s suggestions as Ayli was.

“We’ll see,” Nix said and offered Ravas an amused smile. “We can begin whenever you’re ready.

A cold smile crept over Ravas’ lips and an instant later she burst forward in an attack. Ayli tensed, and start to whip the saber’s blade away from Nix but stopped before she’d moved it more than half a finger’s width.

She didn’t need to move it. She could feel that it was safe for now.

Across from her, Ravas was straining towards Nix, hands bent like claws. Nix wasn’t looking at that though. She had her eyes fixed on Ayli, offering support and looking as calm and relaxed as could be, while her left hand was held up inches from Ravas’s clawed hands holding them back without making contact.

“How?” Ayli asked, which Ravas echoed with a growl.

“Aggression can be really predictable,” Nix said and turned to Ravas. “I feel like this is so basic it would have been an exercise you would have done as a kid. Not with a lightsaber, but maybe with a partner?”

Ravas growled again, and Nix began to give ground. Not fleeing, Ayli noticed, or retreating. It was more flowing that that. With slow, careful steps, Nix pivoted around allowing Ravas to press inward and control the basic direction of the dance, while Nix controlled the pace and angles they turned though.

For her part, Ayli found it almost relaxing. Moving the blade along with Nix was as simple as following the steady flow of their dance, and little by little, Ayli began to see where Nix would lead them even before they moved from one step to the other.

Ravas’ growl turned towards Ayli, but Nix brought her other hand up, blocking the hand Ravas had thrust out in Ayli’s direction.

“Just work with me,” Nix said. “I’m the one you’re mad at.”

That refocused the ghost’s attention. Nix seemed to reward her by stepping up the pace, falling back from Ravas’ advance faster and with quicker, tighter turns.

Ayli marveled at the feeling of speed that sang through her. The room around them turned into a blur as they changed directions, but even so it was almost effortless keeping the blade where it was meant to be. 

Rather than the speed demanding ever more perilous timing, it felt like the faster they went, the deeper into the shared calm Nix was bringing them, and the farther ahead that Ayli could see.

On one pass across the room, Ayli caught a glimpse of Ravas’ hands again and had to look twice. They’d relaxed from the claws they’d been curled into and where open and flat, paralleling Nix’s hands evenly.

Stranger still, the expression on Ravas’ face had faded from one of burning intensity to a quiet confusion.

Ayli made eye contact with Ravas on the next pass, asking without words what had changed.

Ravas turned from that glance, her sudden retreat forming a sharp change in the steps of the dance. Rather than throwing them off though, Nix flowed into the role of pursuer, casting aside being the one pursued as naturally as the step she’d been poised to take.

That hadn’t been what Ravas was anticipating and she jerked backwards, lending a staccato pattern to the danced steps, but, curiously, she did not lower her hands.

Nix matched her movements, never touching their hands together but keeping pace as Ravas slowed in her flight, pressed forward once more and backed away again, her movements growing more frantic as she strove to knock Nix off her footing.

The dance continued like that for another several passes around the room before a crate flew from the corner directly at Nix’s head. Nix caught the crate without a glance and looped it down to settle beneath her, giving the fight a third dimension as she stepped onto and over it.

One by one, more bits of brick-a-brack from the around the room took flight, most of which Nix simply directed into orbits around the dancers, turning their tight cluster into the center of a debris whirlwind.

Ayli sensed the moment when Ravas won, or would win. A sponge, soft, harmless, but just distracting enough was going to slip past Nix’s defenses and pop her on the nose. The blow would throw off her concentration allowing Ravas to bring their hands together and shock her and then the whirlwind would collide in on them.

The lightsaber could fix that.

Ayli could slice the sponge in two.

And then slice Ravas in two.

A lightsaber couldn’t hurt a force ghost, but the move would bring an end to their dance and warn Ravas that worse consequences would follow if she pushed it.

But that would be a win for Ravas.

And Ayli didn’t need to fight.

That was what Nix was trying to show her and Ravas.

With her own free hand, Ayli reached out.

There was a wind blowing around her without the air moving. There was electricity that sang between her and the ship and Nix and the sponge and everything. The weight of everything tugged at everything and it all flowed through her, just like she was flowing through the dance.

The sponge didn’t have to hit Nix.

Ayli had seen it happen, had seen the survivable catastrophe that followed, but that future was not written into the past yet.

So she chose another.

With a wave of her hand, she drew the sponge to herself, grasping onto it without turning her attention from following Nix. 

Crisis averted. Future changed.

Ayli didn’t have anything to do with a sponge, so she allowed herself a half spin and put it on the silliest spot she could imagine.

Being a ghost, Ravas shouldn’t have been able to hold a sponge on the top of her head, but she’d either forgotten that or the Force itself was amused at the idea so it stuck there for a long moment until Ravas glanced up, frowned, and stopped advancing or retreating.

The whirlwind of debris settled gently to the floor as the dance came at last to a halt.

Nix turned to Ayli and sketched her the sort of bow someone who’d only seen the gesture in holonet drama vids of imaginary royalty might make. Since that was as close as Ayli had come to royalty too, she returned the gesture in a similar manner. When they both turned to Ravas though, the ghost was gone.

“That’s probably not good,” Ayli said, trying to imagine where a ghost might go to hide and why Ravas of all people would.

“It’s okay,” Nix said. “She just needs a bit of time.”

“Should we give it to her?” Ayli asked. “She did try to kill you there.”

“No she didn’t. She tried to beat me. If she’d wanted me dead, she would have been a lot more direct about it.”

“Direct how?”

“Did you ever feel her fighting for control of the lightsaber’s blade?” Nix said. “And when I asked, she agreed to keep things between her and I.”

“You knew she would, didn’t you?”

“Not exactly? It’s hard to put in words still, since it’s more like I’m just following my feeling still. She seemed, honorable isn’t quite the right word but it’s close? I challenged her and she answered the challenge. Twice there actually. I hadn’t set any boundaries on the challenge, so the whole ‘chucking everything in the room at us’ thing was fair game. I think if we’d agreed not to do that up front she wouldn’t have done it though.”

“You think she would have given up an advantage like that?” Ayli asked, reflecting on her own bone deep willingness to do whatever was required to win when the situation required it.

“It would depend how the boundary was phrased I think,” Nix said. “If it was ‘let’s all play nice now’, I can’t picture her agreeing to it in the first place. If it was a question of enhancing the challenge by putting other limits on it though? Or rather raising the difficulty so that she’s one of the only ones who can handle it? She knows how strong she is, and I can’t picture being that strong and not wanting to show it off.”

Ayli considered that and had to shrug in agreement. Ravas may have been centuries old, but that didn’t seem to have diminished her ego at all.

“How did you hold her off? I thought she was going to slam you right into the saber’s blade,” Ayli asked.

“That week long nap seems to have done me a lot of good,” Nix said. “Once I finally admitted to myself that what I was doing wasn’t just listening well and lifting a bit harder than most, I realized I’ve been training in this stuff for a long time. People used to tease me about being such gearhead that I’d move engine parts out of sheer impatience rather than waiting for anyone to give me a hand with them. I always thought they were just lazy or weak. In hindsight though, moving a vario-power coupling by myself wasn’t all that different from throwing the Smoke Wraiths across the room. I just pushed a little harder with them. Or, well, a lot harder, but the basic idea was the same.”

“So you didn’t just wake up knowing how to use the Force?”

“I don’t think that’s possible, although who knows, maybe Ravas or someone like her can do some kind of data dump of their Force skills into someone else? That sounded like what she was offering on the bridge when we were getting away from the assassins yesterday.”

“Wasn’t interested then. Not interested now,” Ayli said, suppressing a shudder at the thought of what else would come along with a ‘gift’ like that from Ravas.

“I’m going to bet she’ll make the offer again, probably the next time we’re in dire circumstances,” Nix said.

“And I’ll tell her to go to hell then too,” Ayli said.

“I think she’s already been there,” Nix said. “I think that’s what her life was. Maybe not all of it, but definitely the end, and probably a long time before that too.”

“Did you see something?” Ayli asked, wondering how adept with the Force Nix had become.

“Not a vision or anything like that,” Nix said. “I probably need a lot more practice with being aware of what it is I’m trying to do before I can manage full scale visions. What I got was more of a general sense that things sucked for her and that the anger we see in her comes from a place of hurt fury rather than sadism or general malice.”

Which, to Ayli, explained why Ravas had chosen to latch onto her. 

“We’re coming up on our hyperspace exit,” Goldie said over the comms.

“There’s going to be more people there waiting for us, aren’t there?” Ayli said, the certainty of it stealing through her like ice water.

“I think so,” Nix said. “And I don’t think we’re going to escape them this time.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 21

Nix knew that being within a few inches of an active lightsaber blade was, as a general rule, a terrible idea. Especially when it was a red lightsaber blade. 

Not that red blades were inherently malevolent. As she’d told Ayli, the ‘laser swords’ (why anyone would call them that baffled her tech-literate heart, they were not laser) weren’t mystical magical artifacts. They were tech. Plan, simple tech, that was thousands of years old and well understood to the point where mass producing them would have been trivial. 

But why would anyone bother?

There were plenty of cutting torches on the market to cover a variety of engineering needs. There were also plenty of weapons on the market which were capable of killing people at far great ranges than “arm’s reach”. 

All in all, lightsabers were aesthetically appealing yet severely impractical tools.

Unless of course the wielder could make use of their unique properties in ways people without the force couldn’t hope to manage.

Ways that she and Ayli needed to learn.

“This is not how you practice with a lightsaber,” Ravas said.

She was sulking in a corner of the cargo room Nix had cleared out for her and Ayli’s first training session.

“It does seem pretty dangerous,” Ayli said, her arms locked in a pose as rigid as stone.

“I trust you,” Nix said, taking a step to the right, closing the gap between herself and the saber’s blade.

Ayli jerked the blade away, her breath escaping in a short gasp.

“I wasn’t ready,” she said.

“Yes you were,” Nix said with a smile. “You know when I’m going to move. Don’t be afraid of it.”

“I could hurt you,” Ayli said. “I could kill you. This is…why are we doing this?”

A long night’s sleep had left Ayli better rested and more in balance – otherwise Nix wouldn’t have dreamed of trying this sort of training – but she was still having to fight a lifetime of stress.

“We can stop,” Nix said. “As soon as this gets to be too much, we can go and do something else, or switch to simpler exercises. I think this will help though.” She took another step, gliding from one foot to the other. 

Ayli had met Nix’s gaze and was searching for something there and didn’t seem to be aware that Nix was slowly dancing around her. 

But she moved the blade in time with Nix’s dance anyways.

“How is this helping?” Ayli asked. “Did you learn some kind of Jedi training techniques while you were in that coma?”

“This isn’t a Jedi technique,” Ravas said. “It’s just foolish.”

Nix cast a glance over towards the ghost of the Zabrak woman and offered her an amused smile.

Ravas could have been such a menacing figure, but, while she appeared reasonably young still, she could seem to help sounding like anything but a grumpy old woman.

Nix’s amusement did nothing to improve Ravas’ mood, but, for whatever reason, it was Ravas who broke the eye contact and looked away first rather than challenging or threatening Nix.

“She’s right,” Nix said. “This is just something I came up with. It’s a variation on a routine I ran into in a self-defense class I took on Coruscant.”

“You know how to fight?” Ayli asked, her eyes widening just a bit.

“Sure. Clobber the other guy with a wrench when he’s not looking. Or shoot him with a blaster if it comes to that,” Nix said. “The first rule in the self-defense classes was ‘don’t fight if you don’t have to’ and the second was ‘if you have to, do whatever it takes to be the one to walk away from the fight’.”

That drew a harsh bark of laughter out of Ravas, before she looked away again with a scowl.

“Doesn’t seem like you’d need a long class to teach you that,” Ayli said, her form growing more fluid as she relaxed into the slow rhythm of the simple step pattern Nix was setting for them.

“Most of the rest was about basic exercises we could do for strength and stamina, with some techniques for escaping when someone grabs you,” Nix said. “How well those work varies a lot depending on who or what grabs you though.”

“You’ll have to show me those later,” Ayli said. “I learned things like that too, most of which work somewhere from ‘fairly well’ to ‘much too well’.”

“How does a grapple escape work ‘too well’?” Nix asked.

“When it leaves you with a corpse to dispose of,” Ayli said.

“That sounds like it worked perfectly fine,” Ravas said.

Nix quickened her pace by a half measure.

“I probably shouldn’t be agreeing with her, should I?” Nix asked, flicking her gaze over towards Ravas. “If you’ve got options and you feel the person grabbing you needs be stopped permanently? I mean, I’ll probably want them stopped permanently too.”

“It’s usually not worth it,” Ayli said, adjusting to the new pace of the dance effortlessly. “Killing someone almost always creates more problems than it solves.”

“No arguments there,” Nix said. “Still, better to do it with the techniques you know, or even a blaster, or your lightsaber there than with the Force.”

Ayli’s attention snapped to the lightsaber in her hand as though she’d forgotten it was there. With a jolt, she snapped it away from Nix.

“I forgot…” she started to say, but Nix stepped in close and cut her off.

“You forgot to be afraid,” she said. “It’s okay. We’re doing fine.”

“I still don’t see what we’re doing though?” Ayli said.

“Are you worried about the lightsaber possessing you?” Nix asked.

“No. I wasn’t worried about that.”

“But you wanted to put it away before. You thought it was too dangerous to use.”

“I…” Ayli struggled to explain how that wasn’t what she’d been thinking but Nix could see that it was exactly what Ayli had been spiraling around.

“It’s fine. And you’re fine,” Nix said. “I know this all started when you grabbed the saber, but its just a tool, a basic bit of tech I could whip up with a ten credit shopping spree and a good workshop for fab and assembly. It’s not too dangerous for you, because you’re not too dangerous. Unless you want to be.”

Ayli angled the lightsaber down and let the blade extinguish.

“You’re right,” she said. “I know you’re right. What I was feeling though? It was making me want to be dangerous, even when I really shouldn’t have been. I…I can do that to you.”

“And you haven’t,” Nix said. “Believe me, I will be the first to let you know if you start to lose yourself, because I don’t want to lose you. In case I haven’t been clear so far, the whole marriage thing? I haven’t regretted it for an instant so far. I’m a better version of myself already and we’ve only been together for few of weeks so far.”

“And you were in a coma for one of them,” Ayli said with a forced bit of humor coloring the words.

“Pretty good job to have where you get a week of vacation that early on I’d say.” Nix’s joviality was less forced, but didn’t seem to put Ayli at ease at all.

“No more vacations like that,” Ayli said. “Ever.”

“Agreed. I can think of much better things to do with a week’s vacation,” Nix said. “Like, for example take this training up another notch.”

She lifted Ayli’s left hand which was holding the lightsaber in a loose grip.

“I thought this was to get me past having a hangup about this?” Ayli said, gesturing with the lightsaber’s handle.

“That was part of it,” Nix said. “We can do more though.”

“It won’t be enough,” Ravas said. “You’re missing the most important part of training with a blade.”

“And what would that be?” Ayli asked, not bothering to hide her disdain.

“You’re afraid. That’s good. Fear can be used. You don’t wish to be a danger though? Then do not pick the blade at all. Lay down and wait for the galaxy to kill you if that’s what you want. You won’t be a danger to anyone if that’s what you truly desire,” Ravas said and began pacing back and forth as the spark of fervor in her voice seemed to spread through her whole body. “Training with a blade is for one end. If you would hold a weapon, you must learn to kill with it. Let you fear  teach you. Let your rage teach you. Whatever it takes. Whatever will bring you victory.”

“That sounds so reasonable doesn’t it?” Nix asked. “Funny how fear and rage don’t exactly have a great reputation as the traits you want to base your decisions on though right? It’s almost like they’re the easy and stupid path. Simple answers because thinking is so hard and it just feels good to smash problems rather than spend the effort making sense of them.”

“You know nothing,” Ravas said. “You’ve never been trained. You’re making everything up as you go.”

“Yep. I am,” Nix said. “I’m not wrong though.”

“How do you know that?” Ayli asked.

“When we’re quiet, and calm, we can hear things a lot more easily,” Nix said. “It’d be easy to say it’s the Force speaking to us, but I don’t know if it’s that or just our heart be honest about what we feel and our minds checking it to make sure we understand what it is we want, and what we can do about it.”

“Pah, Jedi nonsense,” Ravas said. “They clung so hard to their serenity because their own anger terrified them. They cast aside the power they could have wielded and made themselves small and weak because they couldn’t face the truth.”

“I’d like to hear your truth,” Nix said. “If you’re willing to share it?”

“You know my truth,” Ravas said. “You see it every time you look at me. The monstrous thing you cannot abide.”

“Join our dance,” Nix said.

“What?” Ayli asked.

“What?” Ravas asked.

“Join us,” Nix said. “For what comes next.”

“I…what do you mean?” Ravas asked.

“You saw the exercise we were doing,” Nix said. “Come stand beside me and dance with me.”

“Why?” Ravas asked, her ghostly eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“Because I don’t think you’ve ever done this either,” Nix said. “Because I think it will be challenging for all of us.”

“And if I kill you while we dance? Or if she does?” Ravas asked.

“Then we’ll see that you were right I suppose,” Nix said.

“No. I don’t want to do this,” Ayli said, backing away.

Nix reached out and pulled her back with the Force, exerting as much pressure as a blustery gale might and no more.

“You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “That’s what this is for. Together we can do this. You’re not going to hurt me because you have all the control you will ever need. And you’re not going to hurt me, because I’m not as helpless as you’ve been afraid I am.”

“And her?” Ayli asked, gesturing towards Ravas with the lightsaber’s handle.

“She needs to be a part of this too,” Nix said. “We can learn things from her. She’s had training we can never get, and she has a perspective we’ll never be able to duplicate.”

“And why would I want to share that with you?” Ravas asked.

“Because, it’s a chance to prove that you’re right, at the risk of having to admit that you were wrong, and I’m willing to bet that’s not a challenge you’ve walked away from all that often?” Nix said.

She wasn’t guessing. She hadn’t known that but as she spoke the words, she felt herself slipping through some cracks in the walls Ravas had put up.

“I do not walk away from challenges,” Ravas said, drawing herself up to her full height and become more solid in so doing.

Ravas was sure she was going to win. Nix could see it in her eyes, just like she could see that she already had.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 20

Ayli did not storm off the bridge. She exited in a controlled and decorous manner as befitted the captain of the ship. That little sparks of rage were still threatening to send her into a wild screaming fit was not a concern for anyone else. 

After all, she hadn’t screamed. 

Or drawn her blasters. 

And she certainly hadn’t picked up her light saber.

Because none of that was going to help anyone.

Arriving in her quarters, Ayli felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her and let herself sag against the wall for a moment.

What was she doing? Why was she so angry? That wasn’t her. She didn’t blow up at every minor setback. Nothing had even really gone wrong. Everyone was fine. The ship was fine. So why did she still want to hurt people so badly?

“I’m not like this,” she mumbled to herself, massaging her face with both hands. Another wave of emotional and physical exhaustion crashed over her. 

It wasn’t that bad though. She could carry on. She had to. The ship needed her.

“Can I come in?” Nix asked, her voice muffled by the closed door.

Like she needed to ask? It was her room too. How stupid was that? What kind of idiot would ask such a brainless…

Ayli felt a stab of fear run through her.

“That is not me!” she said, the spiral of her emotions became a war between shame at where her thoughts had been drifting and terror that she was losing control on a far more fundamental level than she’d guessed.

Nix stopped waiting.

“Hey,” she said and drew Ayli into a half hug, her hands on Ayli’s upper arms.

“Sorry,” Ayli mumbled.

“What for?” Nix asked. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I…” How could she explain? I felt angry? I was cruel to you in my thoughts? I’ve let something awful inside me and its twisting me into a hate filled monster? 

Or had she been a hate filled monster all along? 

Maybe there wasn’t anything new here at all.

Maybe this was who she’d always been and she’d simply been hiding it because she’d been weak before.

Was that Ravas whispering in her ear?


She knew Ravas’ voice. There was no one dredging up doubts in her head. No one except herself.

“How many days did you spend worrying about me?” Nix asked, guiding Ayli towards the bed.

“Do we count the time before you got injured?” Ayli asked, trying to make a joke of it, but her fatigue crushed what little humor she was able to wrap around the words.

“Yes,” Nix said. She sat Ayli down on the edge of the bed and climbed behind her, her hands traveling from Ayli’s upper arms to the tops of Ayli’s shoulders. “Related question: how much sleep have you gotten while I was recovering?”

The massage Nix gave as she spoke moved from one ridiculously tense muscle to another.

“We took turns standing watch after we caught the first assassin,” Ayli said, not answering the actual question because she wasn’t sure she’d gotten any sleep at all since Nix had been hurt. No good sleep certainly.

“I really am sorry,” Nix said. “For getting hurt. For worrying you. I had a sense that something would happen on Lednon. I also had the sense that things would turn out okay though. It didn’t occur to me that ‘okay’ would include you being put through the ringer for a week.”

“I wasn’t the one who got hurt,” Ayli said. “I should be apologizing to you.”

“I pretty clearly recall that you did get hurt,” Nix said, digging her thumbs in to work out a particularly trying knot near Ayli’s spine.

“Not as bad as you did.” Ayli felt tension unwinding in more than just her shoulders.

“I didn’t have to endure a week of waiting and wondering if I’d managed to save you in time. Or if you were going to live but be damaged to the point that you couldn’t be put back together,” Nix said. “It’s not your fault that I was hurt…”

“I was the one…” Ayli tried to protest but Nix cut her off.

“I’m an adult. And I knew the risks. Better than you did in fact, though I didn’t quite appreciate that at the time,” Nix said. “We went in there together, and we were right to, and I would go in there again with you any day. We only got out of there because we were together.”

“Next time we might not,” Ayli said. It wasn’t a secret fear, but speaking the words aloud made it feel like they were even more likely to come true as a result.

“Maybe not,” Nix said. “That’s okay though isn’t it? Sometimes we’ll take risks and risks mean not being sure how things will turn out. What I am sure of, is that I want to face those risks with you.”

“You would be so much better off somewhere else though,” Nix said. “With someone else.”

“Definitely not,” Nix said, turning Ayli so that she was laying facedown on the bed, thereby giving easy access to Ayli’s back where even more tension had settled like a pile of bricks.

“I’m not good to be around right now,” Ayli said, the shame of her moment of condensation and rage towards Nix still stinging her even though it was starting to seem like she was blowing it out of proportion.

“You feel off balance right? A bit out of control?” Nix asked, focusing on the muscles at the bottom of Ayli’s shoulder blades.

“No,” Ayli said, because she felt a lot worse than that.

Though the massage was blunting that feeling somehow.

“You seemed to be pretty angry after we jumped,” Nix said, working a spot on Ayli’s back that seemed to have turned to granite. “And it was anger that let you fly like that, wasn’t it?”

Ayli’s shame swelled within her. Had she been that obvious? Or could Nix just see far too much of her.

“I…” Ayli started to say but faltered. She what? She had no idea how to explain what she was feeling.

“You were backed into a corner. After being hurt. After spending a week or more with worry chipping away at you. After skipping far too much sleep and probably missing too many meals if I’m guessing right. Oh, and you’ve also had the ghost of Ravas Durla picking away at your psyche probably since Lednon Three, assuming she wasn’t with us even earlier.”

“How do you know that?” Ayli asked.

“The Ravas bit?” Nix shrugged. “I can see her. I know that’s weird. Clearly no one else can or I think Sali and Z would be freaking out more, but I can see her plain as day. Well apart from how translucent she is.”

“You can see her? How?” Ayli asked, she wanted to sit up and have a face-to-face discussion with Nix but that would mean cutting the massage short and no power in the galaxy could convince Ayli that was a good idea.

“Honestly? I’m not entirely sure,” Nix said. “I guess I’ve been training myself to be aware of things, no, be aware of the Force I should say, for a long time now. It wasn’t until I met Kelda that it started to click though. Oh, and in the spire. I didn’t know I could use the Force to do that but I had to and so it just kinda happened.”

“Wait, who’s ‘Kelda’?” Ayli asked, twisting her head to glance back at Nix.

“A friend of Ravas. Her lover maybe?” Nix said. “Also a ghost. I’ve met her twice now. The first time I though I’d fallen asleep and dreamed it. The second time I was in whatever coma state I’ve been in for the last few days.”

“Is she like Ravas? What does she want to do to you?” Ayli asked, trying to imagine Nix having to hold off a ghost like she’d had to hold off Ravas.

“I don’t think she wants to do anything to me,” Nix said. “And she’d not like Ravas. I think she might probably have been a Jedi when she was alive. When she appears, there’s a calm aura about her. Ravas is sort of the polar opposite of calm.”

“Don’t let her tell you what to do,” Ayli said.

“She apparently can’t. She seems really keen on making sure I know to trust myself and what I can do. Which has helped a bit, believe it or not. As far as why she’s talking to me in the first place though?  I think she wants to save Ravas. Unless I missed my guess, I don’t think their history together is a happy one. I can’t fix that, but there’s got to be some way of making a brighter future for them, even if they’re both ghosts now.”

“Should Ravas be saved though?” Ayli asked. “She’s done terrible things. I’m sure of it. I can feel the memories of her hate lurking at the back of my mind.”

“I can’t say. Not yet anyways. I don’t know her story. I don’t know her. But I think I need to,” Nix said.

“Why would you want that?” Ayli asked, wondering if Nix’s attraction was limited to women who were secretly monsters in some manner.

“I think it’s what she needs,” Nix said, moving down to work on the muscles in the small of Ayli’s back.

“Why would you care though?”

“It’d be great to say it’s because caring is just the right thing to do, but, again, full honesty? I hate that she’s hurt you. It’s why I sorta smashed her into a wall the first time I saw her,” Nix said. “That was a gut reaction though, and not a great one. I think it’s the same gut reaction that Ravas has gotten her whole life. There’s more in there though. More to her. There’s someone who’s worth understanding.”

“Is that another Force power you have now?” Ayli asked, half joking but half uncertainly curious too.

“No. She’s incredibly closed off. I can’t read anything in her that she’s not clearly advertising so that I’ll stay away,” Nix said. “As for what’s behind those walls though, I’ve only got one thing to go on.”

“That she was tied up with the cult we’re looking for?”

“I don’t think that was her idea at all,” Nix said. “If any of them had been useful, she would have started haunting them the moment they touched her lightsaber.”

“That was probably a mistake, wasn’t it? I shouldn’t have done that?” Ayli asked.

“Much too soon to say,” Nix said. “Sure, it’s given us some trouble so far, but it also saved both of us.”

“Still, I probably shouldn’t be using it anymore,” Ayli said.

“Then don’t,” Nix said. “It’s an effective tool but it’s just a tool. If it changes how you approach situations though, then don’t bother with it. Or keep it around in case you need to cut open a stuck rations container or something. It would be amazing at that.”

“I’m serious. That thing is dangerous,” Ayli said.

“That’s good. We need dangerous things sometimes,” Nix said. “Blasters, for example, aren’t exactly safe but everyone on this ship except for me seems to be carrying at least two or three of them.”

“This is different,” Ayli said. “You’re right that I’ve been angry. Or even more than that. On the bridge? I was out of control. All I could feel with seething, blood red rage. I wanted…I wanted to hurt someone so badly.”

“And so you came here,” Nix said. “To calm down. To give yourself a chance to breathe and get control again.”

“I shouldn’t have had to. I shouldn’t have been like that.”

“You were like that. There’s no should have or shouldn’t have about it,” Nix said. “What’s important though is that for as out of control as you felt, you made the choice to come here. I think what you were dealing with there was more than just your own anger though. I think you tapped into the Force through the anger you were feeling and that got as empowered as your reflexes did. Even with the Force hyper-charging your rage though, your choices were still your own. And you made good ones.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to next time though,” Ayli said, feeling like she was confessing a secret so terrible that it had to drive everyone away. “I feel like everything’s getting worse. Like I’m going to lose myself into a mindless fury if I keep going like this.”

“We can turn back still,” Nix said. “No treasure in the galaxy is worth giving you up for.”

“We’ve come so far though.”

“And we have farther to go,” Nix said, sliding her hands up to the base of Ayli’s neck and then oh-so-gently down her lekku. “But that can be anywhere. We have the whole galaxy to explore, and all kinds of treasures we could find.”

Ayli shivered at the gentle touches on her lekku. With the tension draining from her muscles, the fatigue she felt was washing slowly over her and her eyes were growing heavy. She knew she shouldn’t fall asleep. There were things to do. Plans they had to make, but she felt so cozy and safe under Nix’s warm hands that those concerns began to float away.

“I don’t want to give up,” she said.

“Then let’s keep going,” Nix said. “Together.”

“I don’t want to be a monster.”

“Then let’s learn the right way to use these gifts we have,” Nix said, trailing her fingertips gently down Ayli’s back.

“Together,” Ayli said and let herself drift off at last.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 19

To say Nix was worried about the growing influence Ravas seemed to have over Ayli would have been rather understandable, she felt. Ancient Dark Side ghosts didn’t exactly have the reputation of being particularly benevolent.

Or existing at all really – Nix wasn’t sure she’d ever heard of something like whatever Ravas was but she didn’t need many examples to compare Ravas to in order to figure out that she was bad news. 

What was puzzling was why was she concerned about the Zabrak woman?

Ravas had taken the navigator’s seat in the Goldrunner’s cockpit behind Ayli despite having no apparent need to rest her ghostly legs. She wasn’t hovering over or menacing Ayli at all, preferring instead to stare out the side of the ship at the swirling blue of hyperspace.

Nix was tempted to see if she could engage Ravas somehow, but the ghost had been very determined not to make eye contact with her. That wasn’t too surprising given how much animosity they’d already shown each other, but Nix, for reasons she couldn’t articulate even to herself, wanted to bridge that divide. 

They didn’t need to be enemies. 

But that wasn’t the life Ravas had led.

“We’ll be exiting to to the Tarventi system in a minute,” Ayli said after clicking the ship’s comms on. “I should be able to get Goldie in range to scan for the hyperspace lane within twenty minutes, less if we’re lucky.”

“I still say we should stop at the Smoking Barrel,” Sali said. “Goldie needs some real weapons if we’re going to be fighting off assassins for a while.”

“We’re not going to be fighting anyone,” Ayli said. 

She was wrong. Nix didn’t like that she knew that, and she had no idea who they were going to be fighting or where, but she knew Ayli was wrong. 

Trouble was waiting for them.

Nix cast another glance towards Ravas, who shrugged without glancing in Nix’s direction. Apparently it was the sort of trouble a ghost either couldn’t help with or didn’t see the need to bother be concerned about.

Nix got to work rewiring a few of the control systems, It wasn’t strictly speaking necessary for their continued survival but it would give them a bigger margin of error and, as a mechanic, wide safety margins were like a warm fluffy blanket on a snowy day.

“Okay, this will be a quick in-and-out,” Ayli said. “The sooner we can get to Dedlos the better.”

“We’d be there already if I’d been even vaguely aware of my surroundings, sorry,” Nix said, her hands yearning to work the tension out of Ayli’s shoulders.

“That was not your fault,” Ayli said, her eyes fixed forward.

“I’m pretty sure all I needed to do was throw myself forward and I wouldn’t have three tiny little scars in my abdomen,” Nix said, resisting the urge to raise her shirt to show off her new battle marks. Distracting one’s pilot when she was returning a ship from hyperspace was more or less the definition of a bad idea.

“We can  get those taken care of,” Ayli said.

“I don’t know,” Nix said. “They might be a good reminder for me to pay attention more.”

A suppressed growl broke free from Ayli’s lips.

“That wasn’t your fault,” she said, little sparks of anger curling around the corners of the words. “Do you remember what happened? Do you remember why you weren’t aware of the giant crystal monster behind you?”

“I…” Nix paused. What had she been doing when she’d been stabbed? She’d been drinking the Bacta Gel pack? No, that had to be after. She’d been distracted by something…by Ayli?

“You saved me,” Ayli said. “You got hurt, saving me.”

And Nix remembered.

She’d lashed out. 

Like she had with Ravas.

She’d lashed out and destroyed part of the tower. She’d smashed at least two Smoke Wraiths to pieces. And she’d saved Ayli.

With the Force.

Nix was quiet for a moment.

She’d never thought of herself as anything special. She still didn’t really.

But she had spoken more than once with a dead Jedi. And she could see a Force ghost who no one else seemed to be able to perceive. And she could apparently move things with her mind.

Which was neat.

And scary.

“It was worth it,” Nix said. Being forced to recognize what she was capable of, what she’d probably been capable of for years. And saving Ayli. Both of those were worth the risk she’d taken.

Ayli was silent in response, pulling back the lever which dropped them out of hyperspace.

And directly into a trap.

Plasma bolts slammed into Goldie’s deflectors faster than her sensors could place the ships they came from.

Ravas chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Ayli growled, spinning the Goldrunner into an evasive pattern as the sensors clocked three refurbished Tie-Fighters bearing down on them.

“You draw on the Force so easily,” Ravas said. “You were born to wield my saber. And to do so much more.”

The sentiment was close to what Kelda had told Nix, but the delivery was painfully different.

“Doing all I can already,” Ayli said through gritted teeth as she pulled the Goldrunner out of the course of the incoming fire by thinner margins than the width of her lekku.

“Who’s shooting at us? We just got here!” Sali said rushing into the cockpit and plopping down on the navigator’s chair.

Ravas vanished from it and reappeared between Ayli and Nix.

Sister Zindiana arrived last, Nix’s usual seat at the mechanics station. “Someone followed us to Lednon Three,” she said.

“Doubt it,” Ayli said. “If anyone else was able to find that place, they’d have done so long ago. I think our friends in the orbital stations sent out an alert.”

“Yeah. Could be that,” Sali said. “Those stations weren’t big enough to be self-sufficient. Whoever was manning them has to be getting supplies from somewhere, which means they’ve got allies in other system.”

“Systems like the ones leading to the next trial,” Ayli said.

Nix wasn’t listening to the conversation as much as she was watching Ayli fly. It wasn’t a randomized pattern Ayli was using. She was reacting to each and every bolt that came at them. There were compromises she had to make, of course. The Goldrunner wasn’t fast enough to outfly purpose-built dogfighters like the Tie’s (not yet at least, Nix was working on that). 

Each move that Ayli made felt right though. Nix’s intuition was cheering as each flick of a switch and every pull of a lever bought them the time and safety they needed.

“Goldie, get the scanner’s running would you?” Nix asked.

“We’re not close enough yet,” Ayli said.

“Let me worry about that. Just buy us time, okay?” Nix said.

“Trying!” Ayli said, the growl never leaving her voice, though Nix didn’t feel it was directed at her.

“Let me help,” Ravas said.

“NO!” Ayli said. “I can do this!”

“Found the hyperspace lane!” Goldie called out. “It’s a ways out though. What did you do to my sensors?”

“Took off the limiters on active scan,” Nix said. “We can’t exactly land at a docking port like this or we’ll fry all of the deck crew within a hundred meters or so, but I can set it back like it was before then. Also we might need some new scanners sooner rather than later.”

“Give me whatever speed you can,” Ayli said.

Nix laughed. It wasn’t a safe sort of laugh, and Sali and Zindiana seemed to get that given how they both immediately clung to their chairs. Ayli on the other hand was past the point of concern. 

Tie Fighters were, for all their other failings, fast and extremely maneuverable. With a good pilot they could outmaneuver anything short of an A-Wing. As a medium freighter, the Goldrunner was not dissimilar to a flying pile of mud by comparison, so what Ayli was doing was nothing short of miraculous. 

Nix wasn’t content with that though.

She was going to give her wife an even better miracle to work with.

“Throw all the deflector power to the rear shields,” she said as she twisted the last pair of wires together.

Ayli, beautiful, amazing, wonderful Ayli did not ask why or argue.

She just hit the button.

Medium freighters are neither quick nor maneuverable.

Nix couldn’t improve Goldie’s maneuverability much with a kitbashed change. What she could do though was turn it from a medium freighter, into a sub-light missile.

“Enemy contacts are falling away,” Goldie reported. “Also our hyperspace lane is coming up real quick. We’ll need to slow down for me to calculate the entry point.”

“Don’t slow down!” Nix yelled. “Ayli, you can do this!”

Ayli’s response was entirely non-verbal as she jammed even more speed out of the Goldrunner’s engines.

Given the response time of the sensor relays and the processing power of Goldie’s navigation circuitry, it was mathematically impossible that they would enter the hyperspace lane at the proper microsecond and avoid careening off it into the unknown reaches of the galaxy.

It was impossible for a machine but Ayli nailed it.

By sheer force of will, she slammed the Goldrunner out of normal space and onto the cosmic highway that ran straight to Delos and their next trial.

Nix sagged in relief as they returned to the blue of hyperspace. Tie Fighters were fantastic attack craft, but, unless they’d been heavily modified, one thing they all lacked was a hyperdrive. No one would be pursuing them. They could breath easy.

“Who the hell was that!?” Ayli slammed her fist on the control panel and then punched it again. A piece broke off, and Ayli didn’t care, hitting the panel again as though it’s fragility was just another bellows to stoke her rage.

“Might not want to break our ship while we’re in hyperspace there Wensha,” Sali said.

Ayli whirled and growled at the pirate queen. Nix caught just a glimpse of Ayli’s eyes but it was enough to see how much they’d changed.

Yellow irises, ringed by fiery red.

Those were not the eyes of the woman she felt so comfortable, and warm, and safe with.

Those eyes spoke of danger. Or power, and rage, and an overwhelming desire for destruction.

Nix had never studied the Jedi or learned much about any Force tradition, but she could feel how monstrous the transformation was which was working inside Ayli.

Fear rose as a primal response.

Destroy Ayli it said. Remove the danger. Be safe.

She could move things with her mind.

Killing someone with it would be so easy.

Bodies were nothing but weak points, from throats to hearts to brains. Squeeze almost any part and problems ended.

She could have done it. Nix knew she had that kind of power now. But fear was something she was used to shoving aside. She’d been alone a lot, and so she’d been afraid a lot. So, instead of listening to her fear, she turned to her heart.

The last thing she ever wanted to do was hurt Ayli. 

Or give up on her.

Whatever it took, she wanted to reach her wife and help Ayli find her way back from the shadows which were swallowing her up.

“You did it. We’re safe,” she said, rising to stand beside Ayli. She didn’t hug or even touch Ayli this time though, sensing that with the whirlwind of emotions that was swirling through Ayli’s mind, the last thing she needed was more stimulation.

Ayli turned to her, hands bunched into fists which sagged and relaxed open as the spinning rage behind her eyes wound down into tiny ripples.

“Right. They can’t follow us, can they?” Ayli said, unstable but reclaiming her balance with each breath as she focused on Nix.

“Nope. With how they were flying around us, there’s no chance they were loaded down with a hyperdrive in addition to all the weaponry they were packing. There’s just not enough room,” Nix said, offering the details more as reassurance than an argument to support her claim.

“I still want to know who they were,” Ayli said, the fire had gone out of her words though and her eyes were back to their usual color.

“Those were some of the assassins I’ve been worrying about. I recognized their flying pattern. They’re some of the good ones,” Sali said. “And if they knew to wait for us there, you know there’s going to be others waiting for us around Dedlos too.”

“And they’ll be even better,” Zindiana said.

Nix breathed in and looked for where her intuition was telling her to go.


The next trial.

Where Ayli would need her even more.

And where death awaited.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 18

Ayli was alone. In theory that was the natural state for a body in a coffin, but her previous experience with coffins had run towards them being rather overstuffed. In this case, the coffin fabrication machine had objected to packing multiple bodies together, which was fine. They needed as much air as the oversized coffins could provide. But it still felt weird.

Nix’s kiss lingered on Ayli’s kiss, which sort of kept her company, though thoughts of Nix drifting helplessly in a coffin in space did absolutely nothing to calm Ayli’s nerves so she was diligently avoiding them to the best of her ability.

What was stranger than missing her wife – Ayli was having a harder and harder time of thinking of Nix as anything else – was that the presence she’d been saddled with for over a week seemed to be missing too.

Ayli had picked up the red lightsaber before they left Galvus station, which was usually an invitation for the presence to seep in under her skin, but she couldn’t feel even a wisp of it.

“What has happened to my life,” she wondered, glad the silent void she was floating in would keep her words as private as her thoughts.

But were her thoughts private anymore? She’d heard the presence speak in her mind after all.


She’d heard Ravas Durla speak in her mind.

She knew who ‘the presence’ was. Nix’s declaration on waking had confirmed it, but Ayli wasn’t incapable of connecting the basic dots together of “she’d gotten haunted after picking up a lightsaber which had probably belonged to Ravas Durlas” and “Ravas Durla was some kind of Force-user and, from the historical records, Force-users were capable of all kinds of physics-defying, ridiculous things”. That someone who’d inspired a cult of eternal life seekers might have found a trick to stick around for centuries after her death wasn’t exactly a far stretch. 

Especially not with the evidence Ayli had. Granted it was evidence that no one else could perceive and would be impossible to cite in a decent journal entry, but Ayli had learned to deal with the world as it was early on in life and Ravas Durla haunting her was definitely a thing that was happening.

Shouldn’t that have been frightening? Ayli had already had to threaten to lightsaber her own brain to hold Ravas at bay. 

That had been setting ground rules though. 

And Ravas had respected them.

Which might have been because the ghost knew a different approach would work better.

And it had.

Ayli could still feel the desperation that had gripped her hands around the lightsaber blade as she tried to cut through the sealed doors. The coffins had been a mistake. They’d brought too many old memories back. Too many old emotions.

And Ravas had been right there waiting.

She couldn’t control Ayli but she certainly knew how to push her buttons.

“I wasn’t pushing any buttons,” Ravas said, her voice sharp and clear though her presence remained vague and formless. “I was trying to save you from this.”

“Save me?” Ayli laughed, which probably wasn’t a great idea given her limited oxygen supply. “By getting me to go out alone against who knows how many assassins?”

“Six,” Ravas said. “There were six assassins in the medical facility. Outside they had twelve support staff waiting as well.”

“I can’t fight eighteen people. I would have been slaughtered.”

“I can, and you would have been fine,” Ravas said. “You have the passion to be a true warrior. Together there is no one who can stand against us.”

“I don’t want to be a warrior. I’m a historian,” Ayli said, knowing that wasn’t strictly true so she added, “and a treasure hunter,” which added only a slight bit of extra truth to her claim.

“You left not one of the Smoke Wraiths alive,” Ravas said. “Whatever you choose to be, you are a warrior born as well.”

“I choose not to be the plaything of some dead old witch,” Ayli said.

“I was never a witch,” Ravas said. “And the power I offer you is not magic. The Force is a part of you. One you cannot deny.”

“I have never once lifted a boulder with my mind or bent someone’s will to my own with some magic words,” Ayli said.

“If you think that is how the Force manifests in its users, then you need my teachings more than I imagined,” Ravas said.

“Why would I listen to a word you said, much less believe anything you’re trying to teach me?”

“Because you are useless to me dead,” Ravas said. “If you trust in nothing else, trust in the greed you much feel in me. I cannot take your life. You know this because you know if I could take it, your life would be mine already.”

“That’s not helping your case as much as you think it is,” Ayli said.

“I cannot lie to you, you know this to be true as well,” Ravas said. “I can work only with the truth, give you only what you are willing to receive.”

“And lead me to my ruin without me ever noticing,” Ayli knew she was being difficult out of fear and uncertainty. She strongly suspected that both her fears and uncertainties were well founded though.

The flash of rage she felt surge from her from Ravas acted as an unsubtle confirmation of that suspicion, but the weariness which followed a moment later gave Ayli pause.

“Yes,” Ravas said. “I will destroy you. I will lead you to ruin.”

“That’s…it’s not in a same galactic quadrant as persuasive,” Ayli said, perplexed by what sort of trick the ghost was trying to pull.

“I can only be honest with you,” Ravas said. “In my life, I led myself and others to destruction and ruin. Time and again. In my next life I will do the same.”

“As life plans go, that one’s a little lacking, even for a dead lady,” Ayli said.

“It is not a plan. It is an acknowledgement of the inevitable realities of existence,” Ravas said. “I have seen it many times. Striving until failure. Hope crushed into despair. Life reduced to nothing but its bitter dregs. That is our birthright and our legacy. But it is not our ending. I have not let it be and I will not let it be. From the ashes of our destruction, we can find the strength to rise again. If all existence seeks to quench our fire, if the stars themselves turn against us, that is nothing more than a call for our passions to blaze even brighter. In that is our power. Therein is our victory.”

“Okay, nice. There’s the sales pitch I was waiting for,” Ayli said.

“I offer to sell you nothing,” Ravas said. “You have already taken that which was mine. As was your right by the power you possess. You have acknowledged me, as a testament to the strength of your mind. You seek the treasure assembled in my name and I bid you seize it. To claim victory over those who stand against you though, you will need my aid. I cannot deceive you, I can only offer you the wisdom I had gathered for a thousand years. Wisdom you must have. Wisdom I need you to have because it is only through you that I may touch the world once more, and so you must survive. Whatever it takes. Even if that means dealing with something like me.”

“Yes. Very tempting,” Ayli said. “I’ll pass though. There’s not much point trying to save myself, but letting you destroy everything I am and want to be.”

“Even if that is what you will need to do to save those you love?” Ravas asked.

And like the tide rolling back out, Ravas’ presence faded away and Ayli was alone once more.

“Seriously. What has happened to my life?”

Was a probably-already-looted treasure hoard of ancient Phrik artifacts worth all this? From the inside of a coffin which was floating in the pitiless void, it was easy to reach the conclusion that she’d gone hopelessly mad at some point. Talking to a ghost pointed in that direction too. The calm Ayli felt with the absence of Ravas and everyone else told her she wasn’t mad though. She wasn’t even that angry. 

Sure, Sali had set them up as the fall guys for her scheme and now they had assassins and bounty hunters chasing them across the galaxy. Sure, Ravas was probably going to try to a double cross at some point. And, most importantly, sure, she was married to a woman she barely knew. None of that was normal. None of that was safe, or even comfortable. 

It had been Ayli’s choice though to seek haven with Saliandris (and to steal from the Klex in the first place). 

And It had been Ayli’s choice to take up the lightsaber, even knowing it was an ancient artifact, and her choice to hold onto it when she could have tossed it away on Lednon Three and possibly been rid of Ravas’ ghost in the process. 

And, most importantly, it had been Ayli’s choice to marry Nix. The questionable legitimacy of Canto Blight’s marital decrees aside, Ayli hadn’t so drunk when she’d proposed that she hadn’t meant it at the time. And each day she was feeling like she meant it more and more. 

Maybe it was because she couldn’t imagine anyone else going along with the madness that was her life as well as Nix had. Maybe it was because Nix treated her with the kind of gentle warmth Ayli had yearned for since she’d lost her parents. Maybe it was just that Nix was really good in bed? Except, no, it was more than that. Even when they were apart, like say when they were drifting in separate coffins in the void of space, Ayli could still feel them drawing closer together.

There was a loud bump on the side of Ayli’s coffin.

Things weren’t supposed to bump into boxes floating in space. Ayli reached for the lightsaber to defend herself and locked her muscles in place.

Turning on a bright plasma arc in a tight box would accomplish many things and none of them would be conducive to her survival, from burning up all the remaining air, to blinding her, to probably slicing off random body part. 

With a deep breath, Ayli let her fear wash over her and embraced what calm she could. 

It wasn’t much.

Fear had saved her far more often than being calm ever could have.

Then she heard a tapping from the side of of the coffin that had been bumped.

Could she angle the lightsaber blade to burn a hole just through that side? She’d have to plug the hole with the lightsaber’s hilt but it was at least a plan. All she had to do was…

She stopped.

The tapping wasn’t random.

It was code.

A fairly common one.

Used by Ship’s Mechanics when the comms were down.

Are you okay in there? Spelled out in tap and gaps.

Ayli couldn’t help herself.

She started laughing. 

She was still laughing when her coffin was cracked open from outside, but by then they’d all been loaded into Goldie’s cargo bay (which had thankfully also been repressurized) and the others were in the process of crawling out of their coffins as well.

“Thought of some good jokes in your free time?” Sali asked.

“Nope. Was just talking with dead people,” Ayli said, wiping the laughter tears from her eyes and catching her breath.

She turned to help Nix rise from the coffin which had crashed into hers. 

“Sorry,” Nix said. “That was probably weird. I just wanted to know you were nearby.”

Ayli kissed her.

“You never have to apologize for wanting me around,” she said.

“Before the other people who’d like us around figure out what we did, we should be somewhere else,” Sali said.

“Maybe somewhere closer to the treasure we’re looking for?” Zindiana suggested.

“Yeah. Let’s set course for the next trial. Goldie can you plot a course along the unmapped hyperspace route from the Tarventi system once we get there?” Ayli asked.

“If I can pick it up on scanners,” Goldie said.

“I can show you where to find it. Our next stop is the fractured world of Dedlos,” Ayli and Ravas said.