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.

Star Wars: Treasure of the Force – Ch 17

Nix wasn’t certain where she was going but she could feel the direction safety lay in and, as Kelda had suggested, she was double checking that with her head to put together a plan to get them all out before the assassin’s caught up to them.

If only Ravas Durla wasn’t still hanging around.

The ghost wasn’t doing anything overtly menacing, but her mere presence was like a colony of screech bats. Annoying. Distracting. And somehow mildly rage inducing.

Except Kelda loved her.

Which suggested Kelda had lost her mind at some point, probably before she died, but Nix felt a kinship with her. Nix still loved Sali after all. Not quite as a romantic partner, but the pirate queen was adorable in her own horrible manner. 

Ayli had scary, sharp sides as well, and Nix wasn’t even trying to hide the fondness she felt for her wife, from herself or anyone else anymore. 

So she could cut Kelda some slack with Ravas. People had many different sides. If Ravas only showed her aggressive side to those she was haunting, it didn’t mean there weren’t other parts of her she refused to let anyone see. Or anyone except Kelda.

Nix let her gaze linger on Ravas for a long moment as she rewired the comm panel to output a map of the facility onto the display beside it.

Hate radiated from the ghost, her eyes bleeding red light.

They did terrible things to you, didn’t they? It was a purely internal observation but Ravas seemed to hear it nonetheless and it stoked her rage even higher.

But only for a moment.

The fire within the ghost sputtered and she turned away a snarl of discomfort on her lips and wariness in her eyes as she cast a glance back at Nix.

“You’re taking us to the morgue?” Zindiana asked, tracing her finger over the display which illuminated a path from their position to the coffins which awaited them.

“That’s the plan,” Nix said. “We’ll get fitted for some coffins and flown out on one of the disposal ships. No one bothers those.”

The assassins were getting close.

Nix cranked the gravity control on the elevator car as high as it could go and scrambled the button feeds. Knowing where their quarry’s location wasn’t going to do the assassins much good when the elevators all choose random floors to travel to.

That would hold the assassins off for another minute.

Which meant Nix needed another stratagem to get everyone out safely.

And that was a problem she’d solve later on.

Without wasting anymore time, she started marching towards the morgue.

“How did you know this place had a morgue?” Ayli asked. “And how did you know it was down here?”

“Honestly? It just felt like there was something useful down here,” Nix said. “I worked out what it was on the elevator. Galvus station isn’t that big from what I’ve heard, so one full medical station seemed like the max it would have. And where else do you bring dead bodies than medical stations?”

“Airlocks,” Sali said.

“System maintenance hates that,” Nix said. “Cleaner, and safer to collect them in a proper facility. Bacta tanks are good, but plagues still happen when people aren’t careful.”

“And you knew it would be down here because…?” Ayli asked.

“Lucky guess?” Nix said. “The underlevels on a station are usually the last to get built out. Everyone wants the real estate near the docks. Morgues are great for low rent areas, so I figured that was probably where we were heading.”

“You sound like one of the Jedi in those old dramatizations from the High Republic,” Zindiana said. “Ever had any training?”

“The Jedi went extinct before I was born,” Nix said. “Though I guess at least one survived right?”

“Probably more than one,” Ayli said. “I heard all kinds of stories about them when I was a kid. I think there were at least a few working with the Rebellion. They kept a low profile for obvious reasons though.”

“Wouldn’t mind having a few on our side now,” Sali said.

“Worried about the bounty hunters?” Zindiana asked.

“Not this lot,” Sali said. “Still too early for the good ones to be showing up. But they will.”

“Remind me to thank you properly for that when this is all over,” Ayli said.

“Hey, I’d planned to help you fake your deaths properly,” Sali said. “Probably still our best bet in fact.”

“I doubt we’ll need to,” Zindiana said. “Once the other cartels work out how weak the Klex are, there won’t be anyone left to pay the bounty.”

“You know you’re a lot more familiar with how criminal enterprises work than I’d expect the average nun to be,” Sali said.

“My order encourages Sisters to have a wide array of skills,” Zindiana said.

“No vow of poverty though,” Ayli said.

“Easier to help people when you’ve got a ship’s hold full of credits,” Zindiana said with an amused smile.

“Well, at the moment we’ve got some fittings to take care of,” Nix said, waving the others into the morgue.

A droid waited for them inside, switching to life as they entered the surprisingly spacious chamber.

“Welcome,” the droid said, swiveling on the fixed base at its waist and clasping its two hands together in a respectful gesture. “Are you here to pay respects to a loved one, to claim a loved one’s body, or to perform an authorized inspection of one of our current corpses.”

“None of the above,” Nix said. “We need you to fit us for coffins and place us on a disposal ship which will depart immediately.”

“I am afraid your request cannot be processed,” the droid said. “Only nonliving sapients are placed within coffins, and no disposal ship is schedule for departure for the next two standard rotations.”

“May I access your terminal? I can call up the work order you’ll need there,” Nix said. 

“Certainly,” the droid said.

The first order of business was not the fabrication of the work order though, but rather the falsification of a break-in at the armory on the spinward side of the level.

“Should the alarms be going off like that?” Sali asked.

“The decompression hatch just sealed over the door too,” Zindiana said.

“Clever,” Ayli said, nodding in appreciation at Nix.

“For your safety, please remain within this room,” the droid said. “We are rated as a Class-3 shelter and will maintain atmospheric integrity independent of Galvus Station.”

Nix raised another alarm, and fought the down the malicious spike of glee at the misery the assassins were about to endure. It was Ravas’ fault she was feeling so mean today. Right?

“Intruders have commandeered the armory and are now to be considered Armed and Dangerous,” the droid announced. “Security forces are being mobilized and will be stunning all potential hostiles on sight. Please remain indoors, and remember Buzzco Brand Numb-Numb Sticks are Station Approved for treating headaches, fevers, and other biological maladies, for most sapient species!”

“Corporate stations suck,” Sali said.

“They have their uses,” Nix said, dearly glad that the morgue had the usual abysmal lack of security, and that Galvus Station used the kinds of off the shelf systems she was familiar with.

“A new work order has arrived!” the droid said. 

“Claimed,” Nix said and sent a few more commands to the stations monitoring systems so that it would report the presence of four active life signs in the armory to give the assassin’s something to chase after for just a little too long. That station security was also going to show up at the armory was going to be someone’s problem, but not Nix’s and at the moment that was all that mattered.

“Please place the bodies for transport on the fabrication bed,” the droid said.

“I’m liking this plan less and less,” Sali said.

“We’ll be fine,” Ayli said. “These things will have plenty of air in them for Goldie to pick us up.”

“And they’ll be air tight?” Sali asked.

“They have to be,” Nix said. “Otherwise you’ve got biocontamination issues to deal with.”

“And there’s the smell,” Ayli said. “Most species don’t rot into flowers and sunshine.”

With a last few commands at the terminal, Nix prepped the disposal ship to take them away,  keyed it to move to the coordinates she’d sent to Goldie, and, when it got there, dump it’s cargo. 

As plans went it was a great one. Not foolproof certainly, but they didn’t have to do any fighting and everyone was too distracted to figure out where they were until it was far too late to do anything about it.

“I’ll go and hold them off,” Ayli said, plunging Ravas’ lightsaber into the door and starting to cut an opening in it.

Nix stared at her, not quite processing what was happening.

Not until she saw Ravas’ ghost sunk in close, guiding Ayli’s every move with the lightsaber.

“We don’t need anyone to hold them off,” Nix said, taking a step towards Ayli.

She would have gotten closer but Ayli spun, the lightsaber in her hands not intentionally threatening but between them nonetheless.

“If they catch up to us while we’re in those, we’ll be defenseless,” Ayli said. “I can keep them distracted until your safe. Then you can come back for me.”

It sounded reasonable. 

To someone with a malicious ghost whispering in their ear. A clever malicious ghost.

Ravas is preying on your concern for us, Nix wanted to say but she knew the words would land flat. Ayli knew Ravas was pushing her own agenda. That didn’t change the fear Ayli felt which was deep enough that she was willing to sacrifice herself to be certain the others escaped safely.

I’m not preying on anyone, Jedi. Ravas’ voice boomed in Nix’s mind.

You want her alone. You want her away from me, Nix said, aware of the current flowing between herself and the ghost.

She wants you to be safe. And I want her to be safe, Ravas said. I have no other, have had no other for longer than you can imagine. You cannot protect her. Not like I can. You are but a padawan still. 

Nix had no idea what a padawan was, but the context was clear enough. 

We can protect her together better than we can alone, Nix said, her senses screaming that there was nothing but danger in interacting with Ravas Durla, ghost or no. Her senses were probably right, but she chose to ignore them and look for side of Ravas that Kelda saw. The side that was more than a malicious supernatural threat.

You seek to cast me out, Ravas said. You will destroy me and destroy her in the process.

Images of conflict and destruction crashed through Nix’s mind. She was on a burning ship surrounded by enemies. She was standing before a tribunal. She was exiled. She was alone. She was a small girl being taken from her family. She was running from an lush blue orchard under a clear starlight sky, her heart shattered in her chest and her tears washing away every hope and dream she’d ever held.

That last one wasn’t one Nix was supposed to have seen. She felt Ravas draw back and saw Ayli blink as a red fog in her eyes grew thin and wispy.

I will protect you both, Nix said, not needing to understand how Kelda could love someone like Ravas to understand what Ravas had lost and what she needed most.

You are too weak. You cling to teachings which failed before you were even born. You have no passion. No strength. No power.

Nix brushed the lightsaber aside without making contact with the blade.

With both hands she cradled the sides of Ayli’s face and pulled her in for a long and unreserved kiss. Ayli sank into the sensation with Nix, the lightsaber toppling to the ground as Ayli’s arms dropped to her sides in stunned acceptance.

“I’m not leaving you behind,” Nix said and the matter was settled.

Star Wars: Treasure of the Force – Ch 16

Ayli watched Nix’s eyes finally flicker open and a vise that happen been cranked around her heart finally let go.

Then she noticed the startled look in Nix’s eyes.

Which was followed immediately by a scowl.

Nix was angry?

“Ravas,” Nix said. “You will get your hand off my wife, or I will find a way to feed you to a hyperdrive, ghost or no.”

It wasn’t the most confusing thing Nix could have said after waking from the bizarre coma she’d been in, but it was in the running for the Top Three.

“Nix are you…” Ayli started to ask as Nix propped herself up on her right arm and extended her left hand towards Ayli.

Or, not exactly towards Ayli. Just a little to the side of Ayli.

“Like this,” Nix said, as though she was replying to a conversation Ayli wasn’t a part of.

There was a crash from behind Ayli and, whirling to see what had happened, Ayli saw the metal wall had gained a new dent in it. The dent was an inch or so deep and in the rough outline of a humanoid form.

“Uh, what just…?” Ayli started to ask before Nix cut her off by wrapping her in a fierce hug.

“You’re okay!” Nix said.

Again, strange.

“I don’t think you get to be the one to say that,” Ayli said with a laugh. The world had gone mad, but for the first time in days that wasn’t pissing her off.

It was probably the hug.

Nix gave really nice hugs.

The door to Nix’s recovery room slid open to admit the understandably concerned pair of Sali and Zindiana.

“The assassins get here already?” Sali asked, looking for either a foe or the body of one.

“Assassins?” Nix asked.

“You don’t need to worry about that,” Ayli said, reluctantly parting from Nix who had pulled back to see who was coming into the room.

“Not too sure about that,” Zindiana said. “They’ve got pretty good scans of each of us up now.”

“I feel like I missed something,” Nix said.

“That’s what happens when you let someone stab you in the vital organs,” Sali said.

“This is not her fault,” Ayli said, a bit of the familiar rage creeping back in.

“No, it’s not,” Zindiana said with a reproving look cast towards Sali, “but it is going to be her problem, just like it’s ours. Oh and welcome back to the land of the living there sleepy head? Feeling better?”

Ayli watched Nix pat herself down. A tiny wince passed over Nix’s face when she poked the spots where the puncture wounds had been. But it was only a wince. Not a gasp of agony. Which was definitely better than Nix’s reaction would have been a few days ago. Ayli knew what the wounds looked like after the three days spent Nix had spent floating in a full immersion Bacta tank and was deeply glad Nix hadn’t been poking them earlier. Thanks to the wonders of galactic medical science, the wounds had closed up completely and most of the damage done had been repaired.

That Nix had spent another full day in a coma had perplexed the medical droids, but the droids had assured Ayli that Nix would make a full recovery, and Ayli had held tight to that belief.

No one else needed to die for her. Not ever.

“I feel like I’ve been drinking Bacta packets for days. I think I could do with some real food,” Nix said, chasing away the shadows of the past from Ayli’s mind.

“Good. We’ve got meal packets on the ship. Let’s get her out of here!” Sali said.

“She needs more than meal packets,” Ayli said, understanding why Sali was so eager to leave, but terrified at the thought of taking Nix away from medical care before she was really ready to go.

“There’s also the question of whether she should be moved yet or not,” Zindiana said, gesturing to the fact that Nix was still laying down on the recovery room’s bed.

“I feel fine,” Nix said. “A lot better than I expected to in fact. Probably because I’m in a hospital? Where did you bring me?”

“Galvus Station,” Sali said. “I have some friends here who are good at patching people up.”

“And a lot of enemies who are good at making people dead,” Ayli said, thinking of the three assassin’s they’d dealt with already.

“Not that good,” Zindiana said.

“Good enough that we don’t want to stay here longer than we need to,” Sali said. “Especially not you two.”

“Why?” Nix asked. “What did we do?”

“We killed Ulno Klex,” Ayli said. “Blew up his whole shuttle. I think we took out a few of the other Klex’s too but nobody cares about them. The bounty is for killing Ulno.”

“Was I sleep assassinating people again?” Nix asked, clearly trying to inject some humor into the moment despite being perplexed.

“It wasn’t you,” Sali said. “You might remember that I hired a few gals to get the job done who looked like you though? Turns out they were worth the money I paid them. Ulno Klex is a note in history now, the galaxy is a better place, and my criminal empire can now expand easily.”

“That would be the criminal empire you’ve left behind and have no interest in returning to?” Zindiana wasn’t exactly asking, more reminding and teasing Sali for the foolishness of the situation. Ayli could appreciate the stupidity of it as well, but was less pleased that she and Nix had been caught in the backwash of it all.

“Those were the assassins you paid to pretend to be us?” Nix asked. “Because that would distance you from the plot? Because everyone would know you have nothing to do with us? Us who you’re now traveling with.”

“Yes. Exactly that,” Sali said.

“And you all have been stuck here at a hospital, while I recovered from…I did get stabbed didn’t I?”

“Yeah. Three times, all at once,” Ayli said. “Don’t do that again.”

“No problem,” Nix said. “I will not get stabbed three times all at once again, for sure.”

“That was an overly specific promise,” Zindiana observed.

“I like ones I’m more likely to be able to live up to,” Nix said.

A dull thump of sound passed through the room a split second before the lights failed.

“I think we’re checking out now whether we like it or not,” Sali said.

She had a blaster in her hand. Ayli didn’t need light to know that. It’s what she would have done too. Except she had a different option now.

With the flick of a switch, the crimson blade of her lightsaber sprang to life, matching the emergency lighting which kicked in a moment later.

“You don’t need that,” Nix said, eyes locked on the lightsaber.

“It’s handier than you might think,” Ayli said and got up to peer out the door.

No assassins were in sight yet, but with the bounty the Klex Cartel had put on their heads there was no doubt that there were some in the building, and likely more waiting at all the obvious exits.

“Where’s my stuff?” Nix asked, on her feet and scanning the small room for its meager contents.

“All back on the ship,” Ayli said.

“Let’s get there then,” Nix said, exiting the room and marching deeper into the medical complex.

“The doors are that direction,” Sali said, pointing towards the opposite end of the hallway.

“So are the assassins,” Nix said. “We don’t want to run into them if we don’t have to.”

Ayli reflected that, based on their recent history, it would be substantially worse for the assassins if there was a run in, but then Nix was the one unarmed member of their little crew.


Ayli wasn’t sure what had happened with the dented metal wall in their room, but she did remember the gaping hole in the spire’s wall on Lednon Three all too clearly. Thinking back on it, her memories tumbled together into a picture she’d been missing.

Nix had done that.

It hadn’t been the result of the fight they were in. The Smoke Wraiths hadn’t been responsible. 

It had been Nix.

Who’d been trying to protect her.

Like a Jedi would.

Ayli wasn’t sure where that last thought came from, but it filled her with a simmering anger.

She shook her head.

Why would she be angry about that?

She wasn’t.

She was surprised. Delighted to think Nix could defend herself. Sorta gooey inside at the thought of Nix erupting like that on her account.

But angry?

No. Why?



That was what the Jedi did. That was what their code required.

The presence Ayli had felt since Lednon Three was whispering in her ear. 

But it wasn’t lying to her.

It couldn’t. Not without Ayli sensing it. They were too close. Joined too tightly for deceptions to last between them.

But Nix wasn’t a Jedi.

And Nix was not going to betray her.

Ayli knew that. She didn’t think she knew Nix well at all yet, but Ayli knew that about her already. Nix didn’t use deception, not like Ayli knew how to.

And yet, consider the pirate queen’s fate.

Which was true. Nix had tricked Sali. Not through clever lies, or through playing an unexpected role. She’d done it just by being herself. Just like she was with Ayli.

Ayli shoved the thought aside.

She remembered the Rebellion. She remembered not being able to trust anyone. She remembered the cost of betrayal and how even with all that, you still had to be able to work with people or everything would come falling down.

She felt the presence that had been lingering in the background draw in close and wrap itself around her. It was cold, but it still burned.

Ayli stuttered just one step and Nix spun around, her eyes glaring past Ayli and her arm rising.

And the presence was gone.

No more cold.

No more burning.

No more anger or doubt.

Ayli reeled at the change and Nix flashed her a smile. Sali then caught her and marched Ayli forward as Nix resumed leading them deeper into a building she had no possible means of knowing the layout of.

“Trying to talk to the Klex to tell them it wasn’t us would be a complete waste of time, wouldn’t it?” Nix asked.

“Yeah, even if we could convince them it was someone else, they kind of have to kill us to save face at this point,” Ayli said.

The piled into an elevator which opened just as they arrived. The droid that was exiting it had other tasks to perform and didn’t even pause to look at them.

“You all seem to have been busy, how long was I out for?” Nix asked.

“About a week,” Zindiana said.

“We took a few hits getting out of the Lednon system, which slowed us down a little,” Sali added.

“Oh no! Is Goldie ok?” Nix jammed the “Door Override” button and forced them out on a dimly lit sublevel of the medical complex.

“Hah! Told you that would be her first question,” Sali said.

“She asked a lot of questions before that,” Zindiana said.

“Goldie’s fine. She wanted me to tell you that the repair manuals you loaded were great and she patched up all the damage all on her own. She was very proud of that,” Ayli said.

“Aww, what a good girl she is,” Nix said, beaming at the thought. “Give me just a sec here.”

She paused by a comm panel on the wall, ripping the facing off and reconnecting the wires within seemingly at random. 

“Goldie?” Nix said as the comms chirped back to life.

“Mom?” Goldie’s voice called back instantly. “You’re okay? They promised you’d be okay!”

“I’m fine. I need you to make a light speed jump to the other side of the system and then skip back here, I’ll send you the coordinates of the ship we’ll be on.”

“Why are you flying on a different ship? Just come to me,” Goldie said.

“You’re being watched kiddo,” Sali said.

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re the only ally we have here that’s not in this hallway,” Zindiana said.

“So we need you to be sneaky,” Nix said.

“Okay. When should I be back?” Goldie asked.

“As quick as you can. The ship we’ll be in won’t have much air supply in it,” Nix said.

“What are we doing?” Ayli asked.

“Do you trust me?” Nix asked.

It was a dangerous question, and one the presence seemed ready to jump all over. Before it could though Ayli took Nix’s hand in her own.

“I do,” she said.

“Then let’s go get fitted for our coffins!”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 15

Nix wasn’t dead. Or At least she was pretty sure she wasn’t dead. She wasn’t in pain though and the last thing she remembered was being stabbed through the torso by some unpleasant looking crystal claws. So, that was a maybe on the whole dead thing?

“I don’t wanna be dead yet though,” she grumbled without opening her eyes. She knew she’d been able to slurp down one of the Bacta packets, but she also knew their limits and looking down to find giant holes in her belly was not a particularly appealing option.

“You’re in luck then,” an oddly familiar voice said, “cause you’re not. Trust me. I know what dead’s like.”

Against her better judgment Nix opened her eyes.

She wasn’t laying facedown in a pool of her own blood.

So that was good.

Great even.

But she had no idea where she was. 

Around her a vast done of stars wheeled about, but she wasn’t floating in space and the stars were all wrong. Too close. Too many. Whole galaxies visible like they were neighboring star systems. And they were moving much too fast. Not the blur of a jump to lightspeed, but visibly shifting when they should have stood as silent and still sentinels to guide travelers home.

Unless, here, the star were the travelers themselves, journeying…where? From one place to the next? From one time to another? From one life to what lay beyond?

“Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?” said an old woman who wasn’t glowing blue and transparent this time. “Turns out that’s true even when you don’t have breath left to take anymore.”

“You said I’m not dead though? Right?” Nix asked, pressing her hands to her robes and finding no evidence of severe puncture wounds.

Her robes?

Since when did she dress in robes?

Especially dull brown ones?

“You’re not,” the woman said. “Which makes one of us.”

Nix took a closer look at the other woman.

She wasn’t old. Not really.

And she wasn’t alive. Though that was a fuzzier distinction.

“You brought me here?” Nix asked.

“Nope. This is all your doing. I can only interfere so much before our bond fades.”


“Your life is yours. We’re not bound all that strongly, so if I try to pull you into the mess I left behind, well, you pull away like any rational person would, and no more chat time for us.”

“I think understood maybe a quarter of that, and I probably only really got an eighth of it,” Nix said. “I don’t suppose you could start at the beginning and make all of this approach something sensible?”

“Does this feel like a place where we’ve got all the time in the world to talk?”

“Yes…and no? I…it feels like I’ve been here before. Like I know wherever this is,” Nix said, trying to see if she could locate any familiar star patterns at all.

“You have been. So has everyone. You’re just a bit more aware than most.”

“Thank you?” Nix felt like it had been intended as a compliment but she wasn’t sure it was it actually applied to her.

“Don’t thank me, you did all the hard work.”

“What hard work? This seems familiar, you seem familiar, but I don’t really remember being here and I don’t remember you, except for that time in Sali’s garden.”

“I wish we had more time together. Or more of a bond I guess. It’s not our time that’s limited. It’s how many things I can say that have an impact on your destiny. How much I can change your life.”

“If information is going to change my life, then I want it,” Nix said. “Give me all you’ve got. Print out a whole instruction manual if you can. I like reading up on things. I like knowing how stuff is supposed to work.”

The old woman smiled and turned from Nix to face the stars.

“You wouldn’t think hearing your own words cast back at you would be such an effective punishment yet here we are.”

“Uh, what?” Nix asked.

“I said something very similar to one of my teachers and she laughed herself silly and wished me a student just like me someday,” the old woman said, turning back to face Nix, mirth lingering at the corners of her eyes.

“Is that what I am?”

“Not yet. Maybe not ever. Doesn’t mean I can’t teach you something though.”

“So teach me then. What am I doing here? Where is this place?”

“This is less of a ‘Where’ and more of a ‘When’. Consider it something like a dream, except it’s more than that. It’s the place your mind goes when you’re attuned enough to the Force for it to show you visions.”

“Is that what this is? A vision?”

“Not exactly. Your mind is pretty deep in the Force at the moment, but I’m not an image from the past or a glimpse of a future. We’re both here, now, and this is really happening. Just not in a physical sense.”

“So this isn’t my body?” Which might explain the lack of holes, Nix thought.

“It’s a reflection. It’s your body as your mind sees it in this moment. If we drift into one of your memories, you’d be wearing the body you remembered having then.”

“Okay. That feels right. Why am I here though? And, who are you?”

“My name is Kelda,” the old woman said. “Kelda Torchbearer. As for why you’re here? You were hurt. Quite badly. You pulled a clever trick with the Bacta packet. I wish they’d had those in my time. That alone wasn’t enough to save you though. You needed help. And you got some.”

“From Ayli?” 

“Yes, and we’ll get back to that later, but also from yourself.”

“How did I help myself?”

“By coming here. Your body needed healing, so you put yourself deep into a Force Trance to restore what you could and buy time for your friends to help you.”

“I did what now?”

“You subconsciously put yourself into a state where your natural healing was accelerated and your bodily functions were slowed down. It’s something that requires being highly aware of your life essence. Normally slowly down your body also slows down how quickly it can repair itself. Speed up your healing and you speed is the effects of the traumatic injury. In my time teaching the sort of healing you’re doing right now was reserved for people who’d passed the Test of Knighthood.”

“But going into a healing trance doesn’t bring you here. It usually leaves you comatose doesn’t it?” Nix asked, the knowledge flowing through her rather than being recalled.

“Usually that’s true,” Kelda said. “In your case though, I was calling for you and once you were sunk down into the healing trance enough of the other distractions faded away so you could hear me. After a while at least.”

“Why were you calling me though? You said we had a bond, but I don’t think we know each other at all, do we?”

“I could spend years answering that question,” Kelda said. “We don’t have years though, so here’s the simplest answer; we’re similar, enough that I can see a lot of things in you that I couldn’t in myself but which were definitely there. Also, the woman you’re in love with is currently being possessed by the woman I’m in love with.”

“You were in love with a ghost?”

“She wasn’t a ghost at the time, and she’s not technically one now either. Also, I’m still in love with her. That’s why I’m still here. A thousand years is a long time to wait, even when you skip past decades like heart beats.”

“How…why me? What can I do about that? I’m not…this place isn’t….I have no idea what I’m doing here.”

“Yeah, I thought that would be a little much to dump on you,” Kelda said. “You said you wanted an instruction manual? Here’s the one that you need.” She tapped Nix on the center of her chest. “Just make sure to read it with this.” She tapped Nix’s forehead.

“That’s not all that helpful,” Nix said with a frown.

“I know. But it’s what you need. Trust your feelings. You know so much more and can do so much more than you know yet. That doesn’t mean your should just do whatever pops into your head. Listening to your feelings means being aware. Think about them. If you feel like you’re in danger, you probably are, but it’s what’s on top of your neck that will help you understand the danger and how to get out of it.”

“How is that going to help Ayli though? Can I ‘feel’ the ghost out of her?”

“No. Your wife called on Ravas’ power and is holding onto of her own volition. It’ll be up to her, and Ravas to an extent, when they part. What you can do, what she’ll need you to do, is be there. Be there to remind of who she is. To remind her of the life she has. To remind her that there is someone out there who cares about her, so that she never feels like she has no one left at all.”

Nix could hear the undercurrent of centuries old anguish that ran through Kelda’s words. 

“What happened between you and Ravas Durla?” she asked.

“A lot that didn’t have to and far too little of what did,” Kelda said. “We can get into my story some other time. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone, and that you’ve got the tools to deal with what’s coming, even if you’re not used to them yet.”

“Well, thanks. How are we going to talk again though? Do I need to put myself in another coma?” Nix asked, beginning to consider just how miserable waking up was going to be. Bacta packets or no, major wounds always came with major pain to deal with at some point.

“You can talk to me whenever you want. It’s one of the perks of being part of the Force, I can hear you almost anywhere. You hearing me is a little trickier, but that is something I can teach you before you have to go.”

“Do I have to go?” Nix asked. “It seems nice here. Peaceful but, vibrant? Is that the right word?”

“It is. Peaceful and vibrant. This is what it’s like to be in harmony with life. This is what it feels like when you and the Force are close together. We are all a part of something much greater than ourselves and here that connection is the air we breath and the sky we’re shining in like stars. That’s the lesson. That’s what you need to hear me. Focus on what you’re feeling right now. Remember this and let yourself sink into the calm silence within you. You’ll find a pulse of energy there. That’s you, and it’s me, and it’s all of us. Everyone, from everywhere and everywhen. Reach out to that and you’ll find me reaching back, whenever you need.”

“Why do all this for me though? What makes me special?” Nix asked.

“You’ll have to find what makes you special on your own,” Kelda said. “As for why I’m doing this? I owe a debt that’s been left unpaid for far too long, and this is my chance to set things right at last.”

Nix felt the lightest of touches on her forehead.

But it wasn’t Kelda who was stroking Nix’s hair back.

Instead, when Nix opened her bleary, anesthetic-addled eyes, she found a lovely blue hand tracing a pattern through her hair.

“Welcome back,” Ayli said in a voice just above a whisper.

They were in a plain white room, with Nix laying on what was obviously a hospital bed and Ayli in one of the ubiquitous plain chairs all hospitals seemed to share.

With the lighting dimmed, the moment felt almost as peaceful and quiet as Nix’s Force Vision, or whatever it had been.

Except for the transparent, multi-horned woman with red and black skin who was standing just behind Ayli and had her hand on the back of Ayli’s neck.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 14

Her lightsaber was in her hands. 

And she’d reclaimed her body.

Well, perhaps not her body, but a body nonetheless.

Hot, wrathful glee surged through her.

Everything was right at last.

Though there was a woman crumpled on the floor in front of her.

So perhaps not everything.

It didn’t matter though. The woman was…

That was Nix!

Ayli ripped her thoughts away from the cloud that had fallen over them, though not her heart away from the rage that burned within it.

She was surrounded by creatures that were three meters tall at least and built like they ate Hutt’s for breakfast.

She did not care.

Gewla and Vronmo had tried to instill in her the idea that even life forms which were very different from her own could be people and were worthy of respect and understanding.

Ayli understood that these pieces of bantha pudu had hurt Nix and what they were worthy of was a violent and painful death.

Her hands swung in an arc all on their own and the nearest Smoke Wraith lost the upper half of its torso. It started to reform and pull itself together but the lightsaber jerked and pierced through the purple crystal at its core.

Ayli was happy with the result but she fought for control her limbs anyways.

Something wanted to puppet her? Too bad. Her rage was her own, not anyone else’s.

There was a presence inside her. A voice and a will that was not her own. One that had waited for so, so terribly long. One that would not be denied!

One that absolutely was going to be denied. One that could shut the hell up, because Ayli had her wife to rescue.

Don’t be dead Nix. Please don’t be dead.

Of her own volition, Ayli spun the lightsaber in a tight series of arcing swipes.

Did she know how to fight with an energy blade?

Of course not. Blasters were better in every circumstance.

Every circumstance except the one where she’d lost her grip on them and only had a stick of plasma to work with.

To it’s credit though, the stick of red plasma was a pretty decent substitute for a blaster. People seemed to think they were hard to use but it didn’t take years of practice to work out the basic mechanics of “swing death beam through monster” and the crystal hearts of the beasts had the resiliency of spun glass in terms of resisting the lightsaber’s blade.

From what Ayli could recall that was true of most things when they met a lightsaber’s blade. Except fro Phrik and a few other materials. Which was probably why Ravas Durla’s post-death cult had been so keen on it. 

One of the Smoke Wraiths lunged for her, trying to tear the lightsaber from Ayli’s hands and Ayli stabbed it reflexively though the head.

Which was bad.

Head wounds did nothing to the Smoke Wraiths, and the reflex action hadn’t been hers.

The presence inside her was a tricky little thing.

It couldn’t control her.

Not exactly. Not if she didn’t let it.

What it could do, apparently, was nudge her thoughts along pathways they were used to taking. Send her down into memories of history and making connections with the present and Ayli was a lot less mindful about what she was doing in the here and now.

Even that moment of introspection cost her and she had to check her hands as the swung the lightsaber towards Nix.

The presence seemed to think Nix was what was allowing Ayli to resist its influence.

“Hurt her and I will end both of us,” Ayli said and opened the absolute sincerity of her      intentions for the presence to see.

Surprisingly, the presence retreated at that and released the lingering hold it had been exerting over Ayli’s limbs.

That was when the Smoke Wraiths really started dying.

If unnatural abominations of crystal and Dark Side power could be considered to be alive in the first place.

Ayli didn’t care what the answer was. They were a deadly threat, and so they were going to get dead. Her years as a Rebellion brat had taught her that hesitating to protect yourself never led anywhere good.

Her rage at being reminded of that fact wasn’t quite sated by the time she’d slashed apart all of the Smoke Wraiths.

In the process, a few of them had landed cuts and bruises on her. That was inevitable in any close quarters fighting. 

In fact it should have been inevitable that one or more of them would have speared her like they had Nix. A lightsaber is probably the fastest melee weapon imaginable, but sheer numbers should have given the Smoke Wraiths the openings they needed to put Ayli on the ground with her wife.

Except she’d known where those openings were.

She’d used them, baiting the Smoke Wraiths into making attacks she’d known were coming. Taking limbs off which opened them up for thrusts through their heart crystals.

It had been like a dance.

An angry, hateful, brutally violent dance.

Which was what the Smoke Wraiths had deserved.

She wished one or two of them would rise again. She needed to hurt them more.


No she didn’t.

Her rage shattered when she saw Nix again.

Curled up.

So small.

And still.

Terribly, terribly, still.

Ayli dropped the lightsaber and flung herself to the ground beside the woman who had crept so much farther into her heart than Ayli could have imagined.

The woman who was still breathing.

The woman with an empty Bacta Gel pack in her hand.

“You beautiful idiot,” Ayli said through tears she hadn’t been aware she’d been crying the whole time.

Ayli knew Nix’s weight. She knew she could hold and lift the human woman with ease. Lifting the human woman and all of her gear on the other hand was noticeably more difficult. At least at first. After a moment’s struggling though the burden grew much lighter. Ayli checked to see if Nix’s gear had fallen off, but no, something was giving her more strength.

Cradling Nix in her arms, Ayli reached up and tapped the communicator to signal the drop ship.

“Oh, uh, you two still alive?” a disheveled sounding Sali said amidst the sound of cloth ruffling.

“Nix is hurt. Get the drop ship up here. We gotta get back to the Goldrunner. Now,” Ayli said relying on the imperative tense to convey that she was not in the mood for delays or banter.

“Up where?” Zindiana asked over the sound of the drop ship’s engine’s kicking to life.

“There’s a hole in the wall at the top of the tower. Bring the dropship up to it and I’ll hand Nix over to you. We don’t have time for me to bring her back downstairs,” Ayli said.

“We’ll be there,” Sali said, with no playful banter or questions at all.

Ayli started walking towards room’s newest egress.

The presence within gave a mild tug on her attention though and Ayli cast an eye back towards the cenotaph.

The symbols on it weren’t just decorative.

They were a map.

The historian in Ayli wanted to stop and take recordings of all the imagery in the room. 

Nix needed her though.

The Bacta Gel pack was not the same as full immersion in a Bacta healing tank, or even the work the Goldrunner’s medical kits could do. Nix had bought them time. Ayli wasn’t going to waste a moment of it.

And she didn’t need to.

She wasn’t going to forget where the map showed her to go.

The presence was all too reassuring that it would be there to remind her.

True to her word, Sali was there with the drop ship by the time Ayli arrived at the hole leading out to the storm beyond.

“Let me take her,” Zindiana said, unburdened by the controls Sali was parked in front of.

The transfer wasn’t easy, even with Sali’s expert hands on the controls, the storm battered the drop ship but neither Zindiana nor Ayli risked letting Nix go until they were sure she was secure.

Without really considering it, Ayli turned back to the room before jumping into the dropship herself. The Smoke Wraiths were good and dead. No threats remained. Ayli was carrying the deadliest thing in that room within herself already.

She reached out her hand and the lightsaber flew into it.

Might as well take the second deadliest thing too. It had come in handy. Probably would again.

It wasn’t until she noticed Zindiana’s quizzical gaze and Sali’s surprised one that Ayli registered what she’d just done.

“Don’t often meet someone who knows how to use one of those,” Zindiana said.

“First time I’ve ever held one,” Ayli said. “Let’s get going. Can you handle those orbital guns?”

“Pfff, the ones with the gunners who couldn’t hit a Star Destroyer if it was docked with them?” Sali said and hit the engines for a full burn out of the atmosphere.

Nix whimpered at the acceleration, but she was still breathing and that was all that mattered to Ayli for the moment.

Sali, it turned out, did have some trouble with the orbital gunners. Which struck Ayli as odd. Of the two of them, she wasn’t sure which was the better pilot, but she was certain that Sali could give her a run for her money even on Ayli’s best day. 

So why were they taking ten times the fire on their deflectors than they had coming in? Had the orbital crews woken up their better gunners while Ayli and her crew were down on the planet? Had they installed new tracking software?

Or was it because they weren’t following Nix’s flight plan this time?

Ayli could fix that.

Or the presence could.

Flying past long range fire was child’s play.

All Ayli needed to do was go to sleep. Yes, sleep. Just for a little bit. Just till they were safe. Just till Nix was safe. 

Ayli felt the cool solidity of the lightsaber’s hilt in her hand.

She calmly, and carefully raised it and placed it directly under her chin.

The presence got the message and retreated, sulking into the dark corners of Ayli’s mind.

Ayli had zero interest in self destruction. She’d survived too much and fought to hard to stay alive to give up no matter what her state was. She was at the same time however absolutely unwilling to be used as a tool to destroy the people she loved. Whatever had happened to her when she took up Ravas Durla’s lightsaber, she would deal with it. She simply needed to set certain ground rules up with whatever the presence was, the foremost of them being that even in the scenario where Ayli didn’t win, they were both going to lose.

Strangely the presence seemed to respect that, at least if the grudging feeling of admiration that bubbled through Ayli’s subconscious was anything to go by.

“What happened back there?” Sali asked.

“The room at the top of the tower had guardians,” Ayli said. “We didn’t expect that. Nix had already disarmed some nasty traps. They got me, then they got her, then I got them.”

“Didn’t seem many bodies left in the room when we were hovering outside it,” Zindiana said.

“I believe in being thorough,” Ayli said. “Also they were constructs of some kind. I wasn’t sure if they could pull themselves back together, so smaller pieces seemed better than big ones.”

“They were made out of the crystals that were on the floor?” Zindiana asked.

“Were, yes,” Ayli said.

“Sounds like we left a small fortune behind there,” Sali said.

“That’s fine,” Ayli said. “I know where the next trial is. A small fortune will be nothing if we can find the big one at the end of this nonsense.”

“It’s always the big fortunes that keep people the poorest,” Sali said. “Plenty of money to be made knocking over the easier targets.”

“Pirate,” Zindiana laughed and bapped Sali on the back.

They were past the orbital defense stations and Goldie was en route to meet them in another few seconds. They’d made it to safety.

Ayli stroked Nix’s hair, a tight knot in her heart hoping that they’d made it in time.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 13

By its outward appearance, the central tower wasn’t that imposing. As engineering efforts went, Nix had seen grander structures on at least a dozen other worlds. Taller spires, heavier armor plating, grander architectural flourishes. Where the Children of the Storm had fallen short on each of those fronts, they more than made up for it with the ambiance they captured though.

Each step into the tomb, and Nix was sure it was a tomb, at least of some sort, filled her with an every growing agitation and dread.

Should they be here?

No. Obviously not.

What right did they have to the treasure that was housed in this place?

The right of power?


They were here, despite those who tried to stop them. They could take what they wanted because there was no one who could stop them.

No one besides themselves.

Would Sali or Zindiana stop them? Would they want the treasure for themselves? Of course they would. Could she win a fight if it came to that? If she had the treasure she could…

Nix smacked the intrusive thought right on the nose.

She was used to her mind wandering off into dark corners like that, especially when she was in creepy or dangerous places. 

It was so easy to avoid her fears by imagining herself as violent and powerful and more horrible than anything horrible that tried to hurt her.

She didn’t need to be angry though. She didn’t need to be hateful. Neither of those states led towards outcomes she was usually all that happy with. Inventing misery tended to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What she needed was to pay attention to where she was and what was happening around her.

And how her wife was doing.

Which wasn’t hard to tell at all as soon as Nix consciously considered it.

Ayli was on edge.

She was driven.

She could sense the same intangible peril which seemed to haunt the spire like a ghost laughing just beyond the edge of their peripheral vision. 

Nix kicked that thought away too.

She was afraid. She knew that. No need to go inventing ghosts to explain it. She wasn’t all that used to being shot at, even if the people doing the shooting were easy to avoid, and that kind of experience lingered under your skin well after you thought you were past it.

As for why her mind went to ghosts? Well, the entire aesthetic of the Children’s Spire was one of subtle menace and anger. The designers wanted to encourage a certain fearful and submissive mindset in new visitors. Why? Because they were a cult, and cults are ultimately all about control. There were many methods for controlling sapients, but fear and anger tended work well no matter what background the person in question came from. 

Nix felt that, more than knew it, but being aware of the elements that were artificially inducing fear in her helped her find the distance and perspective she needed to reclaim a center of calm to work from.

“The top of the spire will be an exalted place,” Ayli said. “The treasure should be there.”

Nix nodded. “If there are any defenses that are still active, they’ll be concentrated there too.”

“Right. We’ll need to be careful,” Ayli said, unholstering one of her blasters with her free hand.

“I don’t think we’ll run into any guards,” Nix said. “Any defenses that are left here are going to be environmental, like locked doors or prison rooms.”

“Can you get us past those?” Ayli asked.

“Probably. It’ll all be old tech, and unless they had some actual, well trained security specialists in their membership, I’m betting it’ll be pretty poorly hacked together. Amateurs are terrible at setting up real security system, and there’s a lot of amateurs who get paid as professionals.”

Ayli glanced over and gave her an amused smile.

“I thought you were a ship’s mechanic? Are you secretly a security tech?”

“Oh, not in the slightest!” Nix said. “I’m strictly an amateur too, I’ve just read enough to have a clue about all the things I don’t know. Like, for example, that this door here might or might not kill us for standing in front of it.”

Their careful walk into the spire had led them to a door made of purple crystal which lead to an enclosed crystal staircase which in turn led up to an opaque room at the top of the tower.

“I could shoot it?” Ayli offered without a hint of seriousness. 

Nix squeezed Ayli’s hand and stepped closer to bump their shoulders together. It was nice to see the intensity drain away from Ayli. There was something unhealthy about being too invested in what they were doing, even if it did require their complete attention.

“Help me pull up the floor panels around here,” Nix said.

They released each other’s hands and both knelt down to inspect what seemed like the solid floor beneath them.

“We’re not going to get around the door by dismantling the tower are we?” Ayli asked. “Because I’m reasonably sure our orbital friends will get their acts together and get down here long before we can manage that.”

“Nope,” Nix said, prying up one of the otherwise invisible tiles with a small vibro-blade from her carry-on kit. “This just confirms we’re working with amateurs.”

“How so?” Ayli asked, looking over Nix’s shoulder to peer into the mass of wires and control boards which were crammed into the small space beneath the floor panel.

“Apart from what a mess this is, these controls should all be in a secured box somewhere a lot less accessible,” Nix said. “Professionals can do that because they install it correctly the first time. Amateurs install a system, and then come back and fix alarms that are going off every two minutes. Then they come back again and fix the alarms that are every five minutes. Then ten minutes, and so on, until they eventually put all the controls close by so that when they inevitably have to come back and fix the system again everything’s nice and convenient.”

“Which is also nice and convenient for people who want to bypass the security. Brilliant,” Ayli said.

“To be fair, they did a decent job of hiding the panels though.”

“So not entirety incompetent then?”

“Not entirely. Can you pull up the panels leading off to my left? I don’t think this is all the controls they have for monitoring the door here.”

Nix let herself fixate on the security controls she could see for a moment, feeling out the connections and trying to intuit what they did.

It wasn’t particularly hard.

The door was, indeed, secured.

At least two of the monitoring systems on it lead back to control rooms which were likely on other levels of the building. There were also three different locking mechanisms and two leads she suspected controlled some sort of deadly “intrusion prevention measures”.

“Is this what you need?” Ayli asked, pointed to the underbelly of the fifth tile she’d pulled up where another mass of  jumbled wires was visible.

“Probably, yeah, let me see what we’ve got there,” Nix said.

What they had were three locks that were painfully easy to bypass since they relied on a secure code system that was probably a century out of date when we it was installed, and two explosive traps which were less easy to deal with.

“I’m glad you didn’t blast the door,” Nix said. “The photonic charge on the door handle  might have been incinerated but I think the Thermex bomb they have rigged underneath the door might be strong enough to vaporize the whole top of the tower.”

“Would the Thermex still be stable after all these years?” Ayli asked.

“Not even slightly,” Nix said.

“So opening the door could set it off?”

“Our breathing could set it off, in theory,” Nix said. “In practice I think the case they have it in is probably isolating it from the environment pretty well or the storm outside would have blown it up ages ago.”

“We can risk going up then,” Ayli said. It didn’t sound like a question, which worried Nix a bit, but she nodded in agreement anyways.

There was something at the top of the spire.

Something they needed to deal with.

She didn’t think they’d be happy to deal with it, but it was a problem that had waited for a long time and it was one they could fix.

And fixing things was what she did.

With a few quick clips, Nix disabled both the locks and the sensors which would trigger the offensive defenses.

She hoped.

“Let me go first,” she said, reaching for the door handle but Ayli caught her arm and then hesitated.

“Yeah, okay, maybe that would be best,” Ayli said, shaking her head and relaxing again.

“Good news,” Nix said. “If I’m wrong about the Thermex’s container it’s biologically impossible that we’ll feel a thing when it goes off.”

Ayli shook her head, “You are objectively terrible at being reassuring. You know that don’t you?”

“Yeah, but it meant you didn’t have time to worry when I opened the door, see!” Nix said, gesturing to the open and unexploded portal.

Ayli narrowed her eyes at Nix.

“You’re lucky you’re so damn adorable, you know.”

“I do!” Nix said, thrilled as ever to hear Ayli describe her like that.

The thrill faded as they ascended the stairs though.

The crystal walls deadened the sound of the storm outside to a whisper.

Or maybe the whispers were something else.

With each step upwards, Nix became more convinced that they were not alone.

This wasn’t the hazy, jumpiness brought on by the intentionally creepy decor of the tower. She could feel a presence surrounding them. No. Many presences. 

Strangely, at least one of them wasn’t malevolent.

But only one. 

The rest were so filled with malice there couldn’t be room for anything else in any mote of their being. The rest except for one other, and that one was hungry.

A small voice inside here wanted to turn to Ayli and say ‘we shouldn’t be here’, because they shouldn’t. But they needed to be here and reaching into the calm she’d made for herself she found the strength to believe that and keep moving forward.

Which was how they found the tomb that wasn’t a tomb.

“It’s a cenotaph,” Ayli said, pausing at the entrance to the elaborately adorned room.

In the center, on a dias surrounded by shards of jagged purple crystal formed into the likeness of a bonfire, rested a coffin-like shape made from black basalt and carved with symbols and figures which all seemed to be writhing in rage. Atop the black coffin, the figure of a woman was carved in the same jagged purple crystal as the flames. In her outstretched hand she held…

Nix wasn’t sure what she was holding or supposed to be holding, because she had to move. Immediately.

She’d pushed Ayli to safety and leapt away from the attack before she was consciously aware of what she was doing.

Rolling to feet, she had no complaints about that though.

From the walls, hulking and only vaguely humanoids shapes had detached, their bodies formed from seething smoke and shards of the purple crystal the walls were made of.

“Nix!” Ayli called out, blasters in both hands, bolts flying at two of the monsters which were swiping their serrated talons at her.

Nix pitched herself forward, evading the attack Ayli had been warning her about.

She turned to face her monster and raised her hands to…

To what?

Her hand were empty. She didn’t know what she could do with them that would make any difference against a three meter tall inhuman beast.

Trust in.., an oddly familiar voice, yet garbled voice said from much too far away. You know more than you realize.

As advice went, that was terrible.

Nix was the sort who preferred to get her instructions in simple numbered lists, ideally with a detailed owner’s manual to back them up.

Blaster bolts rained past her, driving the monsters back.

Until Nix heard an anguished cry from behind her.

She whirled to see Ayli had dropped to her knee and was holding a hand to her shoulder, clasping a deep gash. 

She’d dropped her blasters.

She was defenseless against the monster that was standing over her.

“No!” Nix shouted and thrust her hand out.

Nothing should have happened.

She was too far away to save Ayli.

But she needed to.

She needed to more than anything she’d ever needed before.

The monster was blasted backwards.

It shattered the wall it crashed into and sailed out into the empty air outside the Tower.

Through the breech, the storm raged in. Lightning painting the room in a gashes of strobing red .

Nix felt exhilaration run through her.

Then she felt three of the monsters talons run through her.

That shouldn’t have happened.

Except she wasn’t paying attention.

She’d known she was in danger, but that hadn’t mattered.

She’d had to save Ayli.

And she had.

“NIX!” Ayli screamed.

 As Nix collapsed, she saw Ayli leaping over the cenotaph towards her.

Nix hit the ground. Hard.

Something terrible had happened.

She wasn’t going to die.

She would fine.

She knew that.

But Ayli stood in front of her.

And a blade of crimson light blazed in her hands.

Something terrible had happened.