Queen of Kuat: Chapter 1 – An Irritating Interruption

Here we go again! I wrote one version of this during Camp NaNoWriMo earlier this year, but I wasn’t satisfied with basically any of it so I’m taking another shot at it. It’s got more explosions, it’s more tightly written than before, more stuff makes sense… It’s also even darker and Akuliina is even more of a bloodthirsty Space Nazi. You have been warned. Also I still haven’t played the expansions yet. And I probably won’t because EA is a sack of-

Btw someone gave me a really really nice comment on my Kotor 2 fic, which made me really happy, and part of the comment inspired a little bit of editing, particularly in adding a scene to Part 2. I also gave the fic an actual name, because it’s not really about Sith Lords lol.

Once upon a time my brother helped me with plotting and logistics and tactics and stuff, so giving him a credit here. Thank you brother.

Akuliina dealing with adds during Jaesa’s miniboss fight music!

Tango!

 

Chapter 1: An Irritating Interruption

The deck shuddered under Quinn’s feet as the rebel ship scored a lucky hit through the Golden Conqueror’s shields; a small portion of the status screen lit up in red. “Divert power to starboard shields,” barked Captain Cheyomar, and the projection flickered for a moment before showing the shields reinforced in blue around the cruiser. An enemy fighter flashed past the forward viewport, pursuing and being pursued by an Imperial fighter; both the lead Imperial and the enemy fighters exploded in a cloud of glowing gas and shrapnel, rattling against the viewport; the deck shivered again. The surviving fighter veered off towards the battle off the nose of the Conqueror, searching for new targets.

“Tyrant’s Pride, accelerate to thirty percent and bring your guns to bear on the Gryzzhark,” Quinn ordered to the second ship in the fleet, aware that he was completely butchering the name of the Trandoshan ship and not caring in the slightest. It would be scrap soon enough. “Thunderbolt, three freighters are attempting to flee. You have leave to pursue.”

“Aye aye, sir!” answered the enthusiastic young captain of the Thunderbolt, and the small frigate peeled out of formation after the fleeing red dots on the scans.

Quinn surveyed what was left of the battle, hands clasped behind his back in the at ease position. Although the fleet of the Emperor’s Wrath had been numerically outnumbered, the rebel ships had been small and poorly equipped. Too, their tactics had been basic and unoriginal, and now the smallest ships had been destroyed or were fleeing, and the largest ship had been surrounded by the Wrath’s fleet with no escape. The turbolaser blasts lancing between ships were mostly the Empire’s green now, not Trandoshan gold.

“Sir, we’re receiving transmissions of surrender from the Gryzzhak,” the Conquerer’s chief comms officer, Hayna, announced, mangling the name even worse than Quinn had.

“Ignore them,” Quinn said. The Wrath had made it clear that none were to be spared. “Blast that ship into dust, Captain Cheyomar.”

“With pleasure, sir.”

If they accepted the surrender, there was all the bother of boarding and taking the crew prisoner and possibly even risking Imperial lives to save Trandoshan lives. The ship would have to be stabilized, and would give the Trandoshans an opportunity to repair it and use it again. It would also hearten the rebels into believing the Empire could be soft-hearted, that the rebellion was not the heinous crime against peace and order that it was, rather than believing that the Empire could, on occasion, be generous. It was more efficient, more effective to simply destroy them.

True, in the short run it would harden the rebels’ resolve, especially with the utter ruthlessness with which the Wrath was setting about the task of eliminating them. It might cost the Empire more resources to bring their world back to its full production capacity after the rebellion. But hardened durasteel was also more brittle after a point. The Trandoshans might have had an overblown warrior culture, but surely even they would stop before they brought genocide upon their own people. In the end, peace and order would last longer, and the wretched aliens would come to see how serving the Empire benefited everyone.

And of course, the Wrath could play a bit longer. Speaking of which… “Ensign Hayna. Open a channel to the Wrath.”

“At once, sir.”

 

She brandished her lightsabers at the Jedi and the Zabrak soldier, and twenty or so Trandoshan rebels behind them, as she grinned psychotically in the fire-lit twilight. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! How kind of you to invite me in!”

“You weren’t invited!” shouted the soldier. “The Empire never learns. We will never give up hope, never surrender!”

She cackled. “Fine by me.” She gestured, inviting her enemies to attack. Behind her, blaster fire flickered across the hills as her troops pressed inexorably forward, closing in swiftly on the rebel base, in the gate of which she now stood with shattered turrets around her. The Trandoshans hurled themselves at her, firing haphazardly in her direction. They were all much taller than she, solid and physically powerful. Though their aim was atrocious, their claws and jaws could easily rend her limb from limb, if they could catch her.

The Force and her lightsabers didn’t care, as she danced among them, slaughtering them all with joy, the wind washing through her white hair. The fragrance of the Dark Side hung heavy in this place, feeding upon the death and suffering that were come with her. She exhaled and her breath felt like fire, her golden eyes gleaming with exhilaration.

The Zabrak and the Jedi hadn’t moved, though the soldier dropped into a crouch, slightly behind the Jedi. But the two of them seemed determined to talk her to death as she advanced. “Can’t you see the suffering your oppression causes? Do you not realize that cruelty is doomed to failure? That freedom- hrrk!”

A golden lightsaber protruded from the soldier’s chest, as the Jedi flinched and turned, too late. Jaesa Willsaam recalled her double-bladed lightsaber back to herself and stepped from the shadows behind the rebel leaders, grinning. Her apprentice looked slightly worse for wear, her scarlet robe torn, sweat trickling through dirt and bloodstains on her face, yet her energy seemed undiminished by the long battle.

Akuliina gave her a mock-bow. “My thanks, apprentice. The mewling was growing boring.”

“He was right,” the Jedi said, speaking for the first time. “The Empire is built upon fallacies. I have heard you are an intelligent woman, have you not realized this?”

Akuliina frowned at her, ignoring the obvious pandering. “It’s irrelevant. I’m not postponing your execution to argue philosophy when you’re wrong.” Of course she considered the ideologies of the Empire and the Sith very carefully. Whether or not she felt any pull towards the Light – though she’d never admit she actually felt any pull at all – she certainly wasn’t about to give up her purpose in the middle of a battle. Neither was the Jedi, she was sure. What did the other hope to gain from such a foolish tactic?

The Jedi closed her eyes, then opened them and gazed in determination at her. “Though you defeat us today, we are not alone on this planet. The rebellion will continue until Trandosha is free, until Kashyyyk is free, until the galaxy is free from the Empire.”

Akuliina gave a heady sigh. “Ah, that desperate, brave idealism. I adore it. Let’s see how long you last, shall we?”

“Master, please, may I?” Jaesa begged, twirling her lightsaber.

“If you fail, you’ll have to hope in the Jedi’s mercy, because you’ll get none from me,” Akuliina told her, ignoring the Jedi’s attempt to speak.

“If I fail, I don’t deserve the Jedi’s mercy,” Jaesa said scornfully.

Akuliina felt her commlink vibrate and waved her on, sheathing her lightsabers. “Enjoy yourself, apprentice. I have to take this call.”

“Yessss,” Jaesa hissed, bounding into action.

“Wrath of the Emperor!” cried the Jedi, tragically heroic behind her green lightsaber, but Akuliina interrupted her again.

“If you can’t defeat my apprentice, how can you even hope to defeat me? Yes, Quinn?” She wanted to smile fondly at the little holoprojection she held in her hand, but forbore just yet. Behind her, Jaesa and the Jedi lunged at each other, sabers crashing together heatedly. The Jedi was trying so hard. It amused her.

“May I inquire as to your status, my lady?” Now, that did make her smile. So polite.

“The battle’s pretty well done,” she said, glancing around at the remains of the rebel base. “My soldiers are securing it now, and Jaesa’s just dealing with the Jedi leader. I’m sure she’ll be finished shortly. If not, things might actually get interesting. I trust the space battle is in hand?”

“Their flagship has just been destroyed, my lady. The Empire has complete control of Trandosha’s space.”

“Excellent,” she said, turning to watch Jaesa fight. What was taking her so long? Was the Jedi that competent?

It seemed that the Jedi and her apprentice were about evenly matched, and she had to restrain herself from joining the fray. Her heart beat faster just watching. Jaesa was wild, almost sloppy – but every vicious move had a purpose. The Jedi was silent, concentrating, very aware that she was fighting for her life and that there was small chance she would win. And yet she did not seem completely despairing… the Jedi Code supporting her, or some other hope?

A door to the right slid open and a dozen or so soldiers dashed out, taking up a firing line behind a duracrete half-cover divider; she couldn’t quite see them well from her current position behind a crate. “Ythal! We’ll cover your retreat! Quickly!”

“Brave souls!” the Jedi cried, turning towards them to run. “Have the others evacuated?”

“A moment, Commodore,” Akuliina said to her commlink. “Things got interesting.”

“Don’t you run from me!” Jaesa shrieked, blocking the volley the rebels fired at her, darting towards cover of her own – a dozen accurate blaster rifles at once was more than even a competent Sith could reasonably deal with without the heaviest of power armour. The fire was getting heavier, and she was forced to keep her head down. The Jedi was almost to the door and to what might dubiously be called safety for the time being.

Akuliina set down her commlink where it could observe the fight, then stepped from behind cover and drew both her lightsabers. There was a brief hiccup in the firing line as they suddenly recognized there were two Sith they had to deal with, and the hitherto unnoticed one was very close to them. Then the fire turned on her. “Go, Jaesa!” Akuliina dove forward, somersaulting over their cover. One man she held in a vice grip, a mortal shield between her and the rifle-fire, and while he clawed at his chest, trying to loosen her invisible hand, she charged. An electric sizzle from the door told her that Jaesa had collided with her target once again.

She flowed between laser blasts like fire along oil, cutting down her enemies one by one. They’d come to die, to sacrifice themselves to save their Jedi leader, and she was glad to oblige them. She wondered if the Jedi had hoped they would come die for her.

As the last one fell headless, a pained cry from the duel behind her drew her attention. If it was Jaesa, she would let the Jedi get away just to spite her apprentice.

It wasn’t Jaesa. It was the Jedi, slowly crumpling to the ground with a mortal injury and a missing arm. Akuliina raised an eyebrow at her apprentice. “Finally.” She returned to her commlink, sauntering in a teasing fashion. “I believe all substantial resistance has ended here.”

“Congratulations, my lady. May I inquire as to your current plans?”

“I shall return to the Conqueror and leave Jaesa in command here. I don’t want to spend all my fun at once.” Her mood light, she winked saucily at the camera, regardless of the fact that her bridge crew was watching. They were used to her ways by now.

He made no indication that he noticed. “I shall prepare for your arrival, my lady.” She hung up.

“Jaesa!” she called.

“Yes, my lord,” Jaesa said, breaking off her contemplation of the corpses littering the ground, and bowing to her.

“You are in command. Turn the base upside down and bring me any leads on further pockets of insurrection.”

“I hear and obey, my lord,” Jaesa said gleefully, and bounded away.

She reflected as she marched towards her personal troop carrier. They had made a very good start on containing the rebellion that had erupted under Darth Grashmal’s nose; the man was at present attempting to explain his incompetence to the Dark Council. She doubted he would live through the interview. Hours after Grashmal’s departure, before her arrival, the Trandoshans had grown bold enough to launch ships and seize the disorganized Imperial ships remaining over the planet, coupled with poorly-disguised Republic reinforcements. Quinn had seen to that, and now it was up to her to crush the rebellion still fermenting on the ground. With strategic use of the fleet’s bombardment when necessary. She was the chaos that destroyed chaos, allowing the Empire to build proper order in her wake.

They had gotten lucky, in this first engagement. Her fleet had come out of hyperspace unexpectedly for the rebels, and caught wind of activity at what had turned out to be a major base of operations, from the size and the equipment she had observed and wrecked. Cleaning up the rest would be far more difficult. The Trandoshans – or more likely, their outside help, the lizards were far too stupid to think of such things – had organized well, and the Jedi Jaesa had killed was probably not the mastermind behind the whole mess. She hoped the analysts that Jaesa was now terrorizing would turn up something, that the rebellion wasn’t organized into air-tight cells. Otherwise, this could take months, even for someone as unsubtle as her. Though collateral damage meant little to her besides instilling more fear of the Empire, too much and the entire government would collapse. She was there to punish, yes, but also simply to discipline the foolish wilful people who hadn’t yet submitted to the inevitable. And, of course, to remove all Republic or Jedi presence from the world.

She wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing that the fighting hadn’t spilled over to the much more valuable world of Kashyyyk. The Wookiees were far superior as slaves, being more deft and intelligent. If Kashyyyk began to fight the Empire’s grip as well… even she wasn’t completely keen on warring against that death-trap of a world. Fortunately, Moff Adubar had kept a firm grip thus far.

At least the rebellion was something to keep her entertained while the politicians decided whether they were at war with the Republic or not again.

 

She appeared briefly on the bridge to check on the official damage reports and to offer the crew a brief word of congratulation, then retired to her chambers. “I expect you there shortly to discuss tomorrow’s strategy.”

And so he was, taking the somewhat convoluted path down an elevator, through the corridor running half the ship’s length, and taking the elevator that led to the antechamber to her quarters. His own room was opposite hers, but much smaller and he rarely used it anyway. He couldn’t help glancing to the left as he reached her door; there was a small guard station, which Broonmark had made over into a nest of sorts. Apparently he didn’t need much space. The Talz stared back with four unblinking eyes and Quinn quickly looked away as the door opened.

She met him with a smile and a glass of brandy. For herself she had her usual Chandrilan white. “Something to celebrate a good beginning,” she said, and he accepted it with a slight bow. She’d already showered, and no longer smelled of blood and smoke, but of shampoo and florals.

Her chambers were two stories tall, with her bed and refresher and other personal facilities on the balcony, and an office and lounge on the lower floor. The two-story wall facing the balcony was a holographic screen capable of displaying a somewhat staggering quantity of information, or of displaying images that pleased her. At the moment, it showed a view of the planet turning slowly below the Conqueror as it orbited.

The unofficial debriefing went on much longer than the official one, as they slowly made their way together to the balcony, drinking and talking. At length she grew quiet, golden eyes half-lidded in contentment like a manka cat, leaning on the balcony railing watching the planet revolve, the glow of industry and Imperial fortresses sparkling up at them. Her hair was a little longer than when they’d first met, still ghostly white and silky; he wanted to run his fingers through it. Later. She’d let him do that later. It was difficult to believe it had been two years since they’d met already. She’d matured much, while remaining the passionate firebrand she’d always been. And despite their rocky, awkward start, his loyalty to her now was forever unshakable. His loyalty… and other feelings as well.

He set down his brandy and fought the urge to clear his throat. But he did swallow first. There were other matters on his mind than Trandosha, and had been for a while. Something always arose, there was hardly ever a moment’s peace in their lives, and he was done with putting it off. “Perhaps this is not the time to bring this up, but I fear there will be no better time. My lady, there’s something very important I want to ask you.”

She didn’t even look away from the view. “Marry me, Quinn.”

He coughed an embarrassed laugh and slipped an arm around her slender waist, drawing her to his side; she leaned against him willingly, letting him support her. “Sometimes I forget how difficult it is to surprise you.”

Now she did glance at him, red lips curved in mischievous amusement. “I never forget how adorable you are when flustered. But I meant it.”

“As did I… if you hadn’t asked first. I accept. With pleasure.” She interrupted his thought process by pulling his face down to kiss her. “When? Where?” were his first breathless questions when she released him.

“Excellent questions,” she said, eyes unfocusing in consideration. “Victory Day is approaching. Even if the rebellion is not completely quashed by then, I think it would be acceptable to return to the capital for a day or two – in the Fury – to celebrate certain things. It will attract far less attention then, to have guests about. You shan’t be a target as my husband. I forbid it.”

With anyone else, that might have been a joke, but she had enough strength of will – and paranoia – it might just become reality. “As you wish. I’d like my mother to be there, if that isn’t inconvenient.”

“I’d like my parents present as well,” she said. “It will be delightfully awkward. I haven’t seen them since I left home.”

He hesitated to ask his next question, but of course she felt it. “I don’t suppose they approve of you, no. You are not Sith by any means. But it doesn’t matter. I’d rather have someone less powerful and more trustworthy. I can be reasonably sure you’re not going to turn on me in the near future.” She didn’t trust anyone completely, not even him. But he considered it an honour that he was closer than most. “Though I am concerned about one thing…”

“What’s that?”

“They might try to kill you to give me more motivation to kill them… or to encourage me to get a ‘proper’ husband. You’ll have to make it clear that you can take care of yourself, and that you’re more valuable alive than dead.”

He exhaled and leaned his cheek against her head. “How morbid. Your family is odd.”

“They’re hawkbatshit insane. But with a purpose. We’re Sith. That’s how it is.”

“I know. I’m not backing down. That’s a tall order, however. Must I fight both of them at once, or will they allow me to go one-on-one?”

She cackled. “You’re very brave for volunteering, but it would be rude of them to attack you as my guests. You needn’t fear anything while they’re here, and I think we can work out a suitable demonstration. We’ll go hunting with Jaesa or something of the like.”

“I shall trust you on that. You know them best.”

She turned to look up at him, golden eyes fierce. “Don’t worry. I won’t let anyone take you away from me. You’re mine.”

“I am yours.”

“And I am yours,” she whispered, and he kissed her.

 

So on Victory Day, they had returned to Dromund Kaas with the closest members of her cohort. The guest list was not long: Mrs. Nadila Quinn, Count and Countess Volkov, Lord Vowrawn, who was officiating, Major Ovech, and of course Vette, Jaesa, Pierce, and even Broonmark. Vette was actually quite pretty in an iridescent silver jumpsuit – as if she’d ever wear a skirt – which contrasted beautifully with her blue skin. Quinn was in his dress uniform, and Akuliina… She was dazzling, glittering, magnetic in crimson silk studded with tiny flashing jewels, her demeanour superlatively elegant, a gracious smile ever on her face, but always with a smirk lurking behind it. He wondered when she had gotten the dress. He hadn’t seen it before.

His mother was there first, and Akuliina greeted her with a nod. “I’m very pleased to meet you. I hope you know your son is one of the finest officers in the Empire.”

“Thank you, my lord,” his mother said, bowing low. “I am honoured to be here.”

She still looked a little nervous, as he stepped forward to clasp both her hands. “I’m so happy you could come, Mother. I’ve long wished to introduce you.” He smiled, trying to put her at ease. His mother had been nervous around Sith for a very long time, ever since his father had died. But this was different. She had no reason to be afraid here. After all he’d told her about Akuliina… he’d hoped she would be more relaxed here.

“Thank you, Malavai,” she said, and her expression lightened as she looked him over. “Congratulations as well on your promotion. You look very sharp in your new uniform.”

“Thank you, I’ve desired you to see it since my promotion.” Akuliina had advanced his promotions with almost unseemly haste, as if to make up for lost time, culminating in his current station as Commodore and commander of her personal fleet. His mother knew he’d been promoted, but she didn’t normally have access to a holocomm on her regular station. The best he’d been able to do was to send her a holostill.

She turned back to Akuliina. “Thank you for allowing me to come, my lord. It isn’t often I am permitted to return to Dromund Kaas.”

Akuliina waved carelessly. “Think nothing of it. If you transfer to my command, I’ll station you wherever you wish.”

“Thank you, my lord, but I don’t want to upset my current master.”

“My mother is a brilliant analyst,” Quinn explained to Akuliina. “She taught me that precision and attention to detail are the most important parts of a job done well. I can imagine whoever her superiors are now will find it difficult to part with her.”

Akuliina’s eyes gleamed, but her words were teasing. “I’ll pay you double whatever they are giving you.”

“M-my lord-”

“She’s mostly joking,” Quinn translated for his mother’s benefit, but then the next guests arrived.

Major Ovech had a handshake for him, while Akuliina greeted Vowrawn. “Congratulations, Quinn.”

“Thank you, Ovech.”

“And thank you for inviting me. Small party. I understand.” He tapped the side of his nose, and Quinn nodded.

“Ah, and here is the Scourge of Trandosha,” Vowrawn was greeting Akuliina.

Akuliina rolled her eyes. “Please tell me that’s not something actually said about me now.”

“Oh, but it is. I think Lord Ravage is more fond of it than ‘Emperor’s Wrath’.”

She scoffed. “It’s a pathetic title. No one actually cares about Trandosha, it’s simply necessary to be taken care of.”

“Do you believe we are wasting your talents? More importantly, I understand I’m to finally meet your parents.”

“You’ve been looking forward to them that much?” Akuliina teased scornfully, prodding the much older Sith with scarlet-gloved fingers. “What about me? After all I’ve done for you. Killing Baras, killing Dartinyan, killing Grestor… I’ve done a lot of killing for you.”

“And here I thought I helped you kill them,” Vowrawn teased back, looming over her until the prodding ceased. “You’re a delight as always. But your parents?”

“Are late,” Akuliina said. “Patience is a Jedi virtue, but all the impatience in the world won’t get them here faster. Cool your afterburners, they won’t miss this occasion for all the crystals on Ilum. Well… perhaps they would.”

“They’d be foolish not to,” Jaesa said. “But if that’s the case, I’d really hope they’d notify us so we can help ourse- help out.”

“Nice save,” Vette said a little sarcastically. “In the meantime, there’s drinks. What’s your pleasure?”

“Alcohol solves everything, especially absent family,” Pierce said. “I’ll have a Rodian spice.”

It was only a few minutes later that Akuliina glanced towards the apartment’s hangar-garage, though he didn’t see anything coming in to land yet. “Ah, here they are,” she murmured. A few minutes after that, a couple appeared in the door to the lounge, and Akuliina swept over to greet them. Her father was white haired, but her mother was small and dark haired and dark skinned. Both were dressed in dark but expensive-looking robes, with circlets on their heads. He was surprised by how affectionate the greeting between parents and daughter was, before they drew apart and were all cool poise and aristocratic elegance again. He wondered how out of place he was, how presumptuous it must seem that he was to be her husband when he hadn’t a drop of noble blood in him. He had excellent manners, but she came from a different sphere than he did entirely.

She turned to him as Jaesa brought them drinks. “Father, Mother, here is Commodore Quinn. Quinn, my parents Count Anotin and Countess Mareet.”

He bowed low. “My lords.”

He straightened to find himself under intense scrutiny. “Well, he’s good-looking at least, darling,” Countess Mareet said at last.

“And respectful,” said Count Anotin. “He knows his place, doesn’t he?”

“His place is at my side,” Akuliina countered with the most cultured bristle he’d ever seen from anyone. “I have good reasons for my choice and I’ll thank you not to do anything to him without cause.” Such a rude response compared to how she’d spoken to everyone else… but then again, they presented the greatest threat, and they knew it, and he knew it.

“Ah, speaking of which, when are you going to claim your inheritance, Akuliina darling?” asked the countess, a subject which seemed to interest her far more anyway. “Don’t make us wait forever.”

Her father nodded. “You have the strength to do it now.”

“But not the time or the attention to spare,” Akuliina said coolly, giving them an arch look. “Please, Mother. I’m the Emperor’s Wrath. I have a galaxy to help the Dark Council manage. Why should a mere fraction of Kuat direct that much of my attention?” She smirked. “You’re taking care of it for me just fine. When you’re old and useless, I’ll come to fulfill my duty, never fear.”

Countess Mareet snorted in a way that reminded him of her daughter. “If we’re truly old and useless, it will be no true challenge. Don’t make excuses, darling. You ought to kill us soon.”

Akuliina rolled her eyes, while his own mother’s eyes widened in fear and misgiving. “They’re perfectly valid reasons, Mother. You’re still useful to the Empire. I could kill you any time I please. But there’s no point to it.”

“I notice you do not yet have other planets of your own,” Count Anotin said. “I hope it’s not for lack of resources. Even the County of Volkov is richer than the entirety of many other planets.”

“Oh, no, do not mistake me,” Akuliina said. “I am a public servant, after all.” Quinn tried not to snort. Even when they role-played, she couldn’t do a servant, and neither of them were happy on the rare occasion when she tried. The other way around was much better. “I have all the funding, fleets, or armies I could desire. I pick what I want and do what no one else in the Empire can do.”

“What about the one you’re pacifying now?” Countess Mareet said. “Isn’t its recent master dead? Planets grant prestige, darling.”

“Trandosha? Prestige?” Akuliina waved dismissively. “I’d rather have the entire Kashyyyk system or nothing, than just Trandosha. Besides, it’s not part of my long-term plan.”

“You’re not going to abandon tradition, I hope?” Count Anotin said mildly, swirling his drink.

“It really depends on whether the tradition has use,” Akuliina said. “Those who cling too closely to it are often revealed in the end to be hypocrites.”

“You are, of course, referring to Darth Thanaton,” Vowrawn put in.

“Thanaton, Ondorru, Dartinyan – interesting that so many of them are dead,” Akuliina said. “But yes, Thanaton believed traditions held power in themselves, while Lord Murlesson believes they are more weaknesses than strengths, and proved he was more correct than Thanaton when he killed him.”

“And you?” Vowrawn asked, looking entertained.

“I think somewhere in the middle, if you haven’t guessed already,” Akuliina said. “Without referencing the forms and structures developed over our history, the Sith will descend into anarchy. But following them blindly is the height of foolishness – and many do. I’m sure you of all people know that better than I. My family’s tradition has its purpose, but it would be a waste to invoke it now. I haven’t forgotten my great-grandmother’s story. But until I need a comfortable spot to retire, it’s really not important to the Empire.”

“So you’re not going to kill us today,” Count Anotin said.

“I have bigger fish to fry,” Akuliina said with a careless gesture. “Besides, that would be rude.”

Countess Mareet shook her head with a sigh. “Such a disappointment. I suppose we must wait a while longer.”

Akuliina chuckled politely. “I do wish you could find something else to obsess over. When I do kill you, are you going to assume spirit form and pester me about heirs next?”

“It would only be logical,” Count Anotin said, smiling.

“Unless you send your heirs to kill us,” Countess Mareet said.

“That would be cowardly,” Akuliina said. “I have every reason to do it myself. But come, I haven’t introduced you to anyone else yet.”

As she did so, and Vowrawn began to monopolize their attention, his mother sidled up to him. “Are you sure about this, Malavai?” she asked in a very low voice, but he could see the tension building in her again.

“You mean, oughtn’t I to kill myself now and save her the trouble later?” he asked, and she flinched. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s all right, Mother. Really.” Besides the fact that he couldn’t possibly back out on his wedding day, he didn’t want to in the slightest. “I know how she seems, but please trust me. I want nothing else than to serve her this way.”

“But what they were saying…”

“That they expect her to kill them? I wasn’t expecting it to come up so openly, but I’ve known about it for a long time. It’s… based in Sith tradition, I understand, akin to how apprentices often supplant their masters. However, it’s true that she has no intention of following through on that in the near future, and it wouldn’t have any bearing on me.”

“Would she expect her children to kill you?”

“No. If they were Sith, it would be no challenge and therefore pointless.” He’d checked on that, delicately, while they drew up the marriage documents together. He would still have married her, regardless. He wished that she didn’t have this horrifying tradition to live – or die to – herself, but with luck or the Force they would have a long life together beforehand.

Besides, it was Akuliina. Defeating her was exceedingly difficult, and would be even for her own child.

“You remember your father…”

“Father’s situation was completely different.” Although he still wasn’t sure of the specifics. But he was quite certain his father had not been romantically involved with his male master.

“Does she… love you?” she asked, looking uncertain whether she should be hopeful or afraid of the answer.

“Yes. And I love her. Do not fear for me, I beg you. Marrying her is no more risk than serving her as I do already.” He remembered dimly a text-based message he’d once sent to Akuliina. “I’d rather die young by her side, even by her hands, than old anywhere else.”

“You were always a reckless boy,” she murmured, and said no more.

 

The ceremony was short, and they exchanged vows and rings and a relatively chaste kiss, and then the real socializing could begin. It lasted for several hours, and was still going on when Akuliina whispered in Vette’s ear, tugged Quinn away alone to the upper living area, put on some music, and seized his hands to dance.

Quinn enjoyed ballroom dancing; he didn’t understand and hated the strange jumping-up-and-down sort of club dancing that was so popular in the cantinas and bars nowadays. Akuliina of course had been tutored in dancing, though she liked the club stuff as well… and he had to admit that when she did that he couldn’t take his eyes off her. But what else was new? The dance they danced now was smouldering and sensuous, and for them alone. He had been feeling tense making small talk with all the Sith lords, despite his assurances to his mother, and greatly appreciated his wife’s selfishness in dragging him off for a moment to themselves.

Her eyes never left his, and he felt flushed under her stare, as her will undressed him figuratively. But he wasn’t completely defenceless against her intensity, meeting her gaze with determination, pulling her against him, spinning her away, tugging her back when she turned as if to leave. He ran a hand in a seemingly casual fashion up her spine and her back arched into the next move.

The dance could sum up their relationship as a whole, if he cared to analyze it. To an observer, it might seem the physicality of the thing was all that possessed the two of them, that she didn’t even particularly care about him while he was nothing but attentive to her. But it was a technically demanding dance that commanded a great deal of trust, especially from her of him, that he wouldn’t drop her, that he would always support her, even while she was the one upon whom all eyes must be fixed.

Not that he was the only one she could dance with. She was fearless; she’d danced with others before. But with him, she could relax and enjoy the dance to its fullest. And he adored her for it.

He dipped her as she wrapped a leg around him, and crimson silk rode up her thigh. Suddenly the humidity in the room rose about ten percent. Emperor’s breath

The music had come to its triumphant end. She was raising herself to stand on her own feet, he was trying not to breathe too hard from exertion and the fact that her cleavage seemed to be stealing his oxygen, when suddenly she stiffened, eyes wide and unfocused, and then she grabbed his arm with an unbreakable grip and sprinted for the window. He made a noise of surprised protest, staggering after her, almost tripping over his own long legs; she flung out her hand at the window and it shattered, the glass parting and falling strangely to allow them passage. By now he’d recovered his footing, but she wasn’t stopping, racing madly for the edge of the balcony. She certainly wasn’t stopping to answer questions.

“Hold on to me!” she shouted, tugging him even closer and wrapping an arm around him. They reached the edge of the balcony and she leaped impossibly far, her skirt fluttering around them, the Force no doubt aiding her to defy gravity-

The apartment behind them exploded in a massive fireball.

 

Chapter 2: Birth of a Storm

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