Queen of Kuat: Chapter 2 – Birth of a Storm

So you can tell this has changed substantially from the first draft just based on how different it is from the art I originally did of her wedding. Sadly no family butt-kicking at the wedding now, but instead an assassination attempt that makes a lot more sense than “throw troops at the person who mows down troops for a living (while she has back-up)” which was the original, haha.

Chapter 1: An Irritating Interruption

 

Chapter 2: Birth of a Storm

 

It was too quick for him to feel terror, and adrenaline left no room for such feelings anyway. The heat from the explosion washed over them, along with a fine shower of shrapnel; his ears were ringing. And still they were flying and beginning to fall…

He was jolted nearly out of Akuliina’s grip as she seized hold of the wing of a speeder that had braked hard to watch the explosion. The speeder rocked and the startled pilot accelerated hard, but Akuliina was holding on like grim death.

The pilot braked again, less abruptly, and opened the window as Akuliina pulled herself and Quinn safely onto the wing, clutching onto a handhold that was supposed to be for safely-grounded maintenance use only. “I’m terribly sorry, my lord! Are you-”

Quicker than Quinn could see, Akuliina had yanked a piece of solid rubble from her still-exploding apartment out of the air with the Force and held it before her, bare moments before a shot echoed between the skyscrapers, and another one, and a third. All of Quinn’s senses snapped into focus, catching sight of the barrel of the sniper rifle silhouetted atop a distant building. The sniper blasts splashed against the makeshift shield, sending up small clouds of smoke. She didn’t have her lightsabers, she had given them to Vette before the party. He took a firm grip on the cockpit cowling and pulling out his small, nigh-useless dress uniform pistol. It was nowhere near as good as his regular, heavily modified, pistol, and the distance was very great, but if he could see the sniper…

He snapped off a couple shots, knowing already that they would probably miss. He didn’t have much charge in the pistol, either. The sniper rifle cracked again, and the pilot sagged suddenly with a smoking crater in her chest, and the speeder took an accelerating nose-dive.

Akuliina made a growl of frustration and tightened her grip on him. “Quinn! Hold on!” He took one more hasty shot that might or might not have struck true, before the speeder dropped away and he couldn’t see the sniper anymore.

The ground was rushing up towards them, a small boulevard between skyscrapers. Pedestrians were looking at the apartment, pointing, sheltering from falling rubble; ground-speeders were pulled over with their warning lights on. “On the count of three,” Akuliina said, “we jump.”

He saw what she was aiming for, a large fountain that looked deep enough to break their fall. Concerns rushed through his brain – would they die or be injured from hitting the water? At this speed, could she accurately hit her target? What if their attackers electrocuted the water?

“One… two…” The last was sheer Sith-inspired paranoia, and it was too late to worry about it anyway. “Three!” She jumped, and again that strange feeling of inhuman power was in her leap. He wrapped both arms around her and took a deep breath.

They crashed into the water and broke apart to swim separately to the surface. Some distance down the street, the speeder finally slammed into the ground and exploded. Even now, she was in a rush, flipping out of the pond, helping him out, and running to the side of the street under an overhang that would most likely prevent the sniper or other snipers from targeting them again.

She took a deep and slightly shuddering breath, dripping wet, her hair clinging to her head and neck. He ran a hand through his own hair to keep it out of his eyes. Glancing around quickly at the other alarmed pedestrians, assessing them for threat, she spoke in a low voice, though whether it was to him or to herself he couldn’t tell. “Can’t go to the Sanctum, it might not be safe… We must return under cover.” She was fidgeting with her hands, and he noticed that she’d already shifted her wedding ring to her index finger – just an ornament now. His own was hidden under his glove.

Everything was happening at once; some people were hurrying up to them, asking if they were all right and if they required assistance, more speeders were stopping and their occupants jumping out to do the same – or simply gawk. He went for his commlink, though it stuck in the soaking pocket of his uniform long enough to be annoying. “Lieutenant Slinte. Four squads, dropships, Wrath’s apartment complex. There is at least one sniper in the area.”

“Already on it, sir. Lieutenant Pierce contacted me a moment ago to inform me of the emergency. Squads are on their way. Recon is on high alert.”

“Carry on.”

Akuliina had pulled out her own commlink, ignoring the gathering crowd, and had begun to jog back towards her apartment building using the covered sidewalk; he fell into step beside her as the crowd parted before her. Her wet skirt swished loudly and she had to hold it up with one hand to not trip on it. The silk was probably ruined. “Apprentice. Are you there?” He caught sight of her back and shoulders and tried not to react. She was bleeding in several places, shards of glass still sticking in her copper skin. No doubt he was too, though his uniform had protected him a little, but he couldn’t feel it yet.

“Jaesa’s… a little busy right now!” Vette’s voice responded; she sounded strained, and there was the sound of wind in the background. “Trying to make sure we don’t all fall to our deaths.”

“We?”

“Me, her, and your mother. The guys all went downstairs to check out, I dunno, guy stuff, and suddenly Jaesa and your mother got this funny look, and then next thing I know, we’re halfway down the outside of the building, holding on with lightsabers – I mean, what!? – and the entire apartment is gone– Oh my gosh, are you and Quinn all right!?”

“We’re fine,” Akuliina assured her, glancing at him with a flicker of amusement that vanished quickly. “Between the three of you, I’m sure you can figure out how to not die. Must call others now.”

“Okay, by-!” Vette was cut off as Akuliina hung up and immediately changed frequencies.

“Vowrawn.”

“Akuliina! See, my dear count? Nothing to worry about.”

“Not for lack of trying on their part. I’m pleased that you’re unharmed. I don’t suppose you know anything about this?”

“Not in the slightest. But Mrs. Quinn has already settled into an analyst’s station down here in your offices…”

“So that’s where you are,” Akuliina said. “Has she found anything?”

“Not yet – wait, I think she has.”

“Data from the spaceport indicates a ship in low orbit over Kaas City is gaining altitude abruptly,” said his mother’s voice, slightly distant, as if Vowrawn was holding the commlink towards her. “It is also sending a long-range transmission. I’ll attempt to intercept it.”

“Quinn, call the spaceport, tell them to stop that ship now!”

“Yes, my lady.” Even if the ship was innocent and leaving by coincidence, it couldn’t hurt to be too careful. And though the fleet was still around Trandosha, the name of the Emperor’s Wrath held much power here on Dromund Kaas. She didn’t abuse it on a regular basis, but the fact was if she wanted ships to move, they moved; if she wanted resources reallocated, they were reallocated; if she wanted all left-handed guards’ schedules shifted forward by an hour, they shifted. Unless someone else on the Dark Council disagreed, and then there were private disputes that he was glad not to be privy to. He called the spaceport.

A military speeder pulled up beside them, and emergency vehicles zoomed past towards the apartment and towards the crashed speeder further down the street. “My lord! Can we serve you?”

“I’ll take a lift back to my apartment,” she said, and hopped in, Quinn behind her. “Do you have any information on the perpetrators yet?”

“No, my lord.”

“What about the bomb in my apartment?” she snarled, eyes snapping. “Where did that come from?”

“W-we’re looking into it, my lord! We’ll inform you as soon as we have any data.”

It had only been about 90 seconds since the apartment blew up in the first place. But it was good to have reassurance that Kaas City was mobilizing. Of course, such a brazen attack couldn’t go unchecked.

They came to the entrance to the building and Akuliina kicked open the door and rushed out before the vehicle had even come to a stop. The dropships were approaching, he could hear, and one of them was already circling the top of the building. Five of her soldiers rushed to meet her but she brushed them aside, ignoring the elevator, and stormed into the emergency stairwell. He guessed at her feelings – being trapped inside a small moving tube was not where she wanted to be right now. He wasn’t fond of stairs, though.

“How did you know the speeder off the balcony would be there?” he asked as they began the long ascent, while he still had breath.

“I didn’t,” she said, as if that was obvious. “I also didn’t know if my arm would remain intact in grabbing it. But between absolutely dying in a massive fireball and slightly less of a chance of falling to my death, I should think the choice clear.”

“Indeed. I am grateful that you chose to save me as well.”

She gave him a derisive snort that told him ‘of course I’m not going to leave behind my husband when I’ve just married him’, but which would mean nothing to the guards following them.

She burst through the door into her administrative level, 95 stories above street level. “Vowrawn! Father! What do you have for me?” Quinn had fallen slightly behind and moved up behind her, breathing hard, resisting the urge to put his head down between his knees. His legs were burning and he waved to an aide for some water, for himself and for Akuliina, whether she realized she needed it or not. The soldiers were faring only slightly better. The office was filled with urgent chatter, and running footsteps.

“A bit of news,” Vowrawn said pleasantly. “The ship has made the jump into hyperspace, unfortunately, but-” he raised a hand to forestall Akuliina’s darkening expression “-your mother-in-law managed to capture their transmission. The decryptors are working on it now.”

“And your mother is safe,” Count Anotin said. “With your apprentice and your pet. Why are you wet?”

“Good,” Akuliina said. “Wouldn’t do for her to die before facing her destiny. I’m wet because I’m alive. Any casualties?”

“Still determining that,” Pierce said, appearing from the elevator antechamber. “Looks like the top three floors are completely gone, along with any guards and servants up there. Which means most of them. Also Broonmark has been badly wounded; he’s being moved to a kolto tank now.”

“My lord!” A call came from a security officer at a nearby console. “We’ve recovered security footage of the roof before the explosion.”

“Show me.” Akuliina leaned over the man’s shoulder; at the back of the room, the emergency stairwell door opened and Jaesa, Mareet, and Vette hurried in. Vette ran to Akuliina and hugged her.

“I’m so glad you’re all right! I was so scared.”

“It’s fine,” Akuliina said, and Vette let go of her and stepped back as she beckoned to her apprentice. “Jaesa, look at this. I thought you vetted every person who came to the apartment today?”

“I did!” Jaesa said defensively. “I never saw this man, though. Who is he?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Akuliina said, and reached over the officer to tap through the other security cameras at a slightly earlier timestamp. “Has any of this footage been tampered with? Have any consoles been hacked or forced?”

“I-I’ll get analysis on it now, my lord,” stammered the officer. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise you.”

“Good. Pierce, make an investigation into the staff as well. I want to know if he had inside help. Where is this man now? Did he die in the explosion, too? If he has not, I want him found, now!” The tempo of the room picked up yet again; Pierce began growling orders at his team, and they ran.

“My lord,” Nadila Quinn spoke up, approaching briskly. “The message I intercepted has been decoded. This way, please.”

“Quick work,” Akuliina said, following her to the other console. The equipment communicated directly with her offices at the Sith Sanctum, where the majority of her staff worked. However, she also maintained a substantial set-up in her own apartment building directly under her apartment. Pierce, for instance, trained her most elite guard there rather than at the Sanctum. Any assault from below would have to pass through a heavy layer of security before reaching her. But as they’d seen, that was only one avenue of attack.

The message was voice only. “Boss, it’s hard to say, but we think the trap failed.”

“What do you mean, hard to say?” said another voice, a deep smooth voice, and Akuliina grew rigid.

“The bomb was planted as planned, we set it off when she was up there, as planned, but she jumped out the window seconds before detonation. Our sniper nearly got her when she landed on a speeder, but her navy officer shot him. It’s possible she crashed with the speeder, but it’s hard to believe that would kill the Emperor’s Wrath.” It was gratifying to know his last shot had been accurate, though it was partly luck, despite his skills.

“No. She’s alive. Don’t bother coming back to base. All this has done is alert her. You’ll only be paid half for this.” The message ended.

“Mercenaries?” Quinn said. “Who was that voice?”

“It’s Evryn,” Akuliina growled. “The one who got away, and not in a good way…”

He blinked at her. “Your former lover?” The third of five, if he recalled correctly.

“Yes, exactly. Son of Lord Konris Kadolan, also of Kuat. Another Sith, perhaps not as strong in the Force as I am, but still good with a lightsaber. He used me to secure a certain alliance between his father and another noble, then disappeared before I could kill him.”

“Surely he does not know that…” Quinn began, then stopped. There were those present who were not in on their relationship.

Akuliina waved a hand dismissively. “As if the bastard needs to know about that to have a reason to try to kill me. Though to have the gall to attack me on Victory Day… I must wonder if he knew anything else.”

Count Anotin nodded. “Perhaps you know, Commodore, that our family is among the most prominent on Kuat. While we accept Akuliina’s excuse that she is too busy with the Dark Council to attend to the politics of her homeworld, I doubt others are so perceptive. And the Kadolan house is only second to us in power.”

“A highly unnuanced take on my job, but yes,” Akuliina said. “What is he doing now? If he thinks his survival hinges on my death, he’s correct, but there must be more to it than that.” She began to move towards the tactical side of the room, which was more open, more comfortable to talk in, and Quinn followed her. The rest of her companions and guests also followed, less his mother, who returned to a console to continue working on what intel she could.

“Oh, did you not know?” Count Anotin said. “He’s returned to Kuat. His father died suddenly, and whether he returned to take his place, or whether he killed him in order to take his place, no one knows. He’s proven very popular among the younger nobles.”

“That’s news, but not enough,” Akuliina said. “Why did he return? What is he after?”

“That I can tell you,” Vowrawn said. “I’m sure you were busy planning your party, but I noted with interest that a certain Lord Kadolan declared a kaggath with Lord Calamit earlier today – Lord Calamit is a personal friend of mine, you understand. The timing is poor on his part; he should have attempted to eliminate other potential rivals before declaring, but the situation seems clear.”

Akuliina growled. “Mother, Father, you must return home and keep me informed of the situation. I don’t have time to spare for his nonsense, but an insult of this magnitude I cannot ignore. And I will not let that bastard rule my home planet for even a second, even if he didn’t try to kill me.”

“The other Sith will not take kindly to interrupting a kaggath,” Vowrawn warned her.

“The Emperor’s Wrath is not taking kindly to having an attempt made on her, and doesn’t care about the timing of pointless announcements,” Akuliina retorted. “If necessary, I’ll declare my own kaggath. But really kaggaths are simply a waste of resources, especially in wartime, which, may I remind you, we are on the verge of yet again.”

“You’re not suggesting the Sith ought to cooperate unconditionally, do you?” teased Countess Mareet.

Akuliina snorted. “Hardly. But leave the fleets out of it. They have better things to do.”

Thank you,” Quinn muttered under his breath.

Countess Mareet shook her head, her black ringlets of hair shaking about her face. “We go on a brief pleasure trip and the whole planet falls apart.”

“And not only should we provide Akuliina with the intel she needs, but we must keep our allocation of ship production stable as well,” Count Anotin said to his wife. “We must support Calamit against the instigator of this conflict and the betrayer of our daughter, but even more importantly, we must ensure the Empire doesn’t suffer for Kadolan’s arrogance.”

Akuliina smiled briefly at her parents. “You are among the finest Sith in the Empire. We need those ships to fight the Republic. Thank you.” She thanked someone? How shocking. The smile transformed into a predatory smile of malice. “I will follow you so that I can kill him finally. Quinn, inform Captain Cheyomar that I will be delayed in returning to Trandosha.”

“Yes, my lady. We will be going to Kuat in the Fury?”

She glanced sharply at him. “I was under the impression you would return to Trandosha to command in my stead.”

“My place is at your side.” Yes, he was probably more use to the Empire on Trandosha… unless she wandered headlong into a trap, or something else that would cause him to regret it for the rest of his life. And they’d just married, he wasn’t letting her out of his sight now. She was his wife.

She glared at him. “Fine. You may come, Commodore. Jaesa, Pierce, Vette… I assume Broonmark is not well enough to travel.”

“Aye, he got knocked about by the blast, was almost crushed under rubble. Wouldn’t want to feel his headache when he wakes up,” Pierce said.

“I will be keeping my distance,” Vowrawn said. “This seems a squabble that has little to do with me.”

“No,” Akuliina agreed. “This will be a brief distraction from my real work. Major Ovech, you as well – I expect utter discretion.”

“You have my word, my lord.” Ovech saluted to her. “If there is any way I can be of assistance while I am still on Dromund Kaas, however, I would be happy to be put to work.”

“You have my thanks,” Quinn said. “We appreciate it greatly.” And his mother’s work; he would thank her later. She truly didn’t have to volunteer her expertise; her master was on the entire other side of the galaxy and had almost nothing to do with the Emperor’s Wrath. Which was probably safer for her, all things considered.

“Is there anything else you can tell me about home?” Akuliina said to her parents.

“Calamit is still in power, but he’s suspicious of Evryn’s return as well. I don’t think Evryn’s been to court one time in the last two months.”

“Two months?” Akuliina cried. “And you never told me!?”

“You never call, darling,” said the countess. “It would have been the first thing we told you.”

Akuliina glanced away with a rueful smile. “Very well. I know I don’t speak to you often enough. I’ve been busy.”

“We know,” Countess Mareet said gently. “But you might still call once in a while.”

“Speaking of your work, we never told you about your present,” the count said. “Do you remember the ships we own in the Kuat Defense Force?”

“Yes, the Glory of Volkov, Terror of Volkov, and the Rage of Volkov.” She blinked at her father, her face blank in a way that preluded great surprise. “Don’t tell me you’re…”

“The fighter-carrier Rage of Volkov is now yours to command,” said her father.

Like the sun rising, joy and excitement blossomed on her face. “Oh! That is wonderful news.”

“I understand you’re quite knowledgeable about vessels of all types, Commodore,” Count Anotin said, turning to him. “I assure you they’re all kept in top condition, and I just had the Rage completely overhauled for just this occasion. While the three are intended to remain as a set, I understand my daughter’s been a little bit lacking in fighter support for her battles.”

Quinn bowed low. “It’s an honour; I’m very grateful.”

“It’s perfect,” Akuliina said, her sparkling expression reminding him of one of his previous girlfriends on being given an expensive new dress. He was always amused and gratified at what pleased her enough to make her act girlishly – armies, ships, his undying loyalty…

“I’m sure you’ll put it to good use,” Count Anotin said. “I hear great things about your actions against this lizard rebellion. But if you want the other two in the set, you’ll need to claim your inheritance.”

“And leave Kuat undefended?” Akuliina asked, mildly indignant. “The House of Volkov must pull her weight, Father. I’m surprised you would grant me even the Rage to begin with.”

“If you’re not needing me, I’ll set about gathering intel and preparing for departure tomorrow,” Quinn said to Akuliina. Really, she ought to set off tonight, but it wasn’t realistic, with the amount of work to be done. “You should head to medical and have your wounds looked at.” Tiny trickles of blood had flowed down from the cuts in her shoulders, dying the silk a dark shade of crimson.

She blinked at him as if she had completely forgotten about it. “Right. Those. You should, too.”

He hesitated only a moment. “Yes, my lady.” If shrapnel had cut through his uniform, there was no sense putting off getting it taken care of. He wanted to throw himself into work, but if he managed to hurt himself further, that was no good.

 

When he saw her again, she was covered in synthskin patches, but still wearing the slowly-drying silk dress. He wondered why; he’d changed into a regular dry uniform. He returned to the administration centre and told an aide to begin forwarding everything he could find on Evryn Kadolan.

What he learned disturbed him. The Sith was very good at assembling forces discreetly, and had clearly been planning this coup attempt for a long time. Intel on his forces and resources had been extremely sparse until just now; for many years, it seemed, he had laid so low some sources had claimed he was dead. But the news reports were pouring in now for those who cared to read them. Kadolan had seized several large vessels that had been in production in the shipyards, manning them with a combination of fresh trainees from Carida and volunteers from Kuat itself.

The last gave him pause. Count Anotin had said Kadolan was popular among the younger nobles. If he had considerable support among the local population, he might actually win his fight in the long run, and that would be bad for Akuliina, who as far as he knew was not perceived to have any particular attachment to her homeworld. He was among the few who knew she did not return so that she would not have to fulfill her dreadful duty to her parents, but even if the reason were known her absence probably did not help her cause in opposing Kadolan. Quinn would have to be very careful in advising Akuliina’s plan of attack.

Akuliina was hovering about the office, inspiring nervousness where she went. He waved her over and told her what he’d found, and she frowned in vexation. “Yes, Evryn can be charismatic when he wants to be. He even fooled me for a while. I was sixteen… but that’s no excuse.”

He thought it was a reasonable excuse. “What happened? If I may ask.”

She grimaced and looked away. “We met at court; he charmed me into being his girlfriend. I asked if he’d come with me to the Autumn Moon Garden Dance. He asked if I’d introduce him to Feuseldt Kuat. I did. His father married her. He never did come with me to the dance.”

“He disappeared?”

“Vanished as if he’d never existed. Smart move on his part; I’d have cut his balls off before his head if I found him. Now that seven years have passed and he’s attacked me and mine on Victory Day, I’m going to carve him apart slowly before feeding him to a terentatek.” She looked darkly into the distance, yet there was something beneath the vehemence, some struggle, that he wasn’t privy to.

Best not to inquire too deeply, really. “Why did he want to be introduced to Feuseldt Kuat? Who is she?”

“She’s the eldest daughter of one of the other powerful noble houses of Kuat. We were acquaintances, but she was very reclusive. I’m sure without me, Evryn would never have met her. But I don’t know why he needed to meet her at all.”

“Hmm,” he said, and filed it away mentally in case it was important later. “Why did you never ask me to the Autumn Moon Garden Dance?” he asked in a low voice, that the staff around wouldn’t be able to hear.

She smirked and answered in the same tone. “Because I wasn’t planning to return to Kuat for a long time, dear.” He chuckled and treasured the rare endearment.

 

In Lord Calamit’s near-pitch black throne room, a tone chimed, surprisingly melodious in the large space. Near the throne, something stirred in the dark, moving forward until lit by the red floor lighting in the centre of the room. “Yes? Who is calling?” The voice was old, raspy, male.

“Akuliina Volkova, the Emperor’s Wrath,” said a dispassionate droid voice.

“I will answer,” said Calamit, raising the light level in the room slightly. He was bent and withered, though he forwent a cane, but his frame beneath his simple black tunic showed he had been tall and physically strong once.

Once. He had ruled Kuat for forty years and had left behind all need for physical confrontation. The Force was all he needed now to ensure his will, and his cunning to play the warring nobles against each other, that none of them amassed enough power to oust him no matter how old he became.

The holoprojector flickered and buzzed before resolving into an image of a small, slender young woman, a delicate flower dressed in a fanciful, sensuous gown. No doubt she had been indulging on Victory Day as many young Sith did. She was young, after all, and hadn’t learned to focus her concentration properly yet, despite all the fire in her eyes. “Lord Calamit.”

“Lord Akuliina. What might I do for the Emperor’s Wrath?”

“Evryn Kadolan has gravely insulted me,” she said, her eyes flashing though her demeanour remained perfectly poised. “I am returning to Kuat to personally see him dealt with. I have no interest in you, or in alliance with you, but I give you fair warning: if I find him before you do, he will die by my hand, your kaggath be hanged.”

“I understand perfectly,” Calamit said, bowing sardonically. The girl wouldn’t know the difference. “I shall await news of his death with great eagerness. Good day to you.”

She terminated the call, and he turned back to the black depths of his lair, considering. She said she wasn’t interested in challenging him, but only a fool would believe that at face value. She’d shown some code of honour in dealing with the Republic, with the Hutts, in dealing with the Empire’s own traitors, but there were so many ways she could attack him ‘honourably’. Kill Kadolan and then declare her own kaggath, for instance. Though that wouldn’t go well with the Dark Council, to interrupt one kaggath and then declare another, even if the report that had come to him earlier today suggested she had just cause to do so. Kadolan had been sloppy, after all.

No, the only thing to assume was that she would be coming to involve herself in the battle for Kuat’s power. She couldn’t help it, after all. She was a Sith. And Kuat must hold some interest for her, being as it was her homeworld.

And though she lacked cunning, experience, and finesse, she had enough raw power in the Force and prowess in lightsaber combat that she could easily hold her own against both of them. He himself was past lightsabers, but he knew better than to underestimate them. And her Commodore was clever, he might give her enough of an edge to win. “Droid.”

“Here, sire.”

“Instruct an acolyte on Dromund Kaas to locate Lord Akuliina’s personal vessel, then plant a homing beacon on it. Then, send the frequency of the beacon to Kadolan in secret without revealing it was I who sent it.”

“Yes, sire.”

Calamit settled himself on his throne in satisfaction. If the Force listened to him, the lesser of his enemies would destroy the greater, and then he could clean up at his leisure.

 

“It’s three in the morning,” Akuliina said at last, leaning over his desk. He’d been looking over the damage to the top of the building, and wondering who would be called to fix it. Such things were not his expertise. The apartment was completely obliterated, a charred pile of twisted girders and jagged shards of walls, and it still shocked him. Right, Akuliina was speaking to him. “Delegate someone else to deal with everything. Call up Agent Elshinix if you have to. You need your sleep.”

What about you? he wanted to ask, but she was twelve years younger than him. She didn’t care about missing a couple hours. Or if she did, her pride would never allow her to admit it.

And he was tired, which surprised him; his eyes tired from staring at holoscreens, his eyelids heavy, the muscles he’d used in their escape and the stairwell stiffening up. Even caf couldn’t help him now. He hadn’t noticed while he was in the thick of analysis and research, but now that she had said the word ‘sleep’, he could feel a yawn building in his jaw. He restrained it with an effort. “As my lady wishes.”

His mother had left not long ago; she was an analyst, but she was also a guest, and he’d convinced her to rest with the promise that he would rest soon too. Ovech had retired. Even Jaesa had shambled off some time ago. The entire staff shift in the office had changed without him consciously noticing. The only ones left were the Count and Countess, and they approached Akuliina and spoke with her softly before they also departed, and Akuliina crooked a finger at him to follow her.

She led him back down the stairs – his legs protested at bending so – and to an unused apartment on the floor that she reserved for guests. They were nice, but not as luxurious as her normal chambers had been. That mattered little to either of them, however; he’d seen Akuliina sleep on bare ground on Voss, without even a camp mattress or a blanket. And he’d been used to far plainer fare on Balmorra or even on the Fury.

After he heard the door close and lock, he felt slim arms slip around his waist and a head leaning against his back. “You are mine,” she purred.

He smiled. “Indeed I am. Forever, officially.” It felt like the wedding had been days ago already, but the gold ring was still heavy on his finger under his glove.

“And I am yours,” she said, much more softly, so quiet he almost didn’t hear it. He turned in her arms, bending down to kiss her. It was special when she let down her shields enough to confess her affection to him with words.

They were long, slow kisses, but the heat was building, as it was wont to do when Akuliina was involved… until she herself pulled away. “You’re supposed to be getting ready for bed.”

He repressed a quip about smothering and sat on the edge of the bed, undoing his boots and setting them down neatly under the bed, removing the dress belt and his gloves, setting the ring down carefully on the bedside table and undoing the collar and front of his dress jacket before holding out his arms to her. She hadn’t been idle, removing her jewellery and make-up and her own boots and gloves before hitting the light switch and bounding to him, settling herself in his lap, resting her head against his shoulder and nuzzling him contentedly.

He was happy. It was ridiculous, that he could honestly say he was happy to be married to the Emperor’s Wrath herself, after such a tumultuous, chaotic evening, but to see her happy and satisfied, to feel her resting in his arms… She wasn’t the Wrath in this moment, and while he was always awestruck by the Wrath, he loved Akuliina. He loved this woman, who was both super-human and deeply, humanly flawed, who well-nigh abused him while offering him all the fulfillment he could ever ask for.

She stirred and glanced up at him. “I do hope you’re not too tired. My sarlacc wants to eat your kor’slug before we sleep.”

An incredulous and oddly giggly laugh burst from him. “Congratulations; I do believe that is the least sexy thing you have ever said to me.”

She pouted at him. “It’s not as unsexy as ‘jawa kneecaps’.”

“That’s supposed to be unsexy. That’s the point of a safeword.”

She pouted harder. “Are you going to have sex with me or not!?”

He chuckled. It was a dangerous game he played sometimes, not answering her immediately. But the results were usually worth it. “I suppose I’m not completely exhausted.” His hands were wandering now, one resting on the curve of her slender waist, the other brushing against her soft, full breast before slowly drifting downwards, slowly dragging up the hem of her skirt. “Tell me, does your sarlacc have tentacles? Or teeth? Should I be worried?”

Her answering smile was triumphant and more than a little predatory, and she pushed his jacket completely off his shoulders before unbuckling his pants belt and whipping it away. “Why should I tell you? I thought you thrived on danger.”

“I do. But I never charge into it blindly.” Like she did, often in the name of ‘fun’.

She moaned. “Oh Force… I want you to tear this dress off me and take me hard.”

The last part wouldn’t be difficult, but he hesitated over the first part. The crimson Denebrillian star silk and sparkling Corusca gems had to be ridiculously expensive, even after it had been slashed with glass fragments and then soaked in the pond. And now she was just asking him to rip it?

She huffed impatiently, sliding her hands under his undershirt, along the skin of his belly. “It’s already ruined, and I kept it on specifically for this. Qu- Malavai, if you don’t have this shredded in the next five seconds, you’re sleeping on the couch.”

“Can’t have that, can we?” he asked, his voice deep and soft, and she shuddered. And he moved. The fine silk gave way easily in his grasp as he tore open the front of the bodice, and what was left of both their clothes was rapidly discarded, and her legs were clamped around him like a vice, her fingers digging into his shoulders. His tongue was delving into her mouth, almost forced out again by her vigorous counterattack, and then she bit his lip and he responded by pushing her down harder. And she responded by pushing back, fighting against him until she was on top, biting at his shoulders and collarbone as he pulled her hips down.

Her skin was so smooth against him, under his hands, even with all the scars layered on it. She always felt indescribable, incredible, but there was something different tonight. It wasn’t birth control, or lack thereof – she’d never asked him to use protection, and when he’d inquired about it, she dismissed the issue, saying she had it managed. The clear answer to the difference was that it must be true: marriage did change a relationship.

When his senses returned to normal, she was stretched out beside him, and he heard the best sound in the universe – the contented sighs of a deeply satisfied woman. He rolled over to embrace her, and she melted into his arms, a sleepy smile on her face. He was about to fall asleep, too; nothing could have kept him awake at this point.

“’Night,” he murmured, resting his chin on her head.

“’Night,” she whispered back into his chest.

 

Akuliina woke as the sky grew light; Quinn was still sleeping soundly beside her. She watched him for a while, reveling in the fact that he really was hers now, body and soul, that he had sworn himself as close to her as it was possible to be. Her omnipresent paranoia was quiet when it came to him; he had no reason to betray her now unless she gave him one. She… trusted him. She trusted him as much as she loved him. That was why she’d sworn herself to him, given up just a little bit of her freedom, willingly, for him. There might come a day when she needed to take it back, and he would probably give it to her. But that was not a day she particularly cared to think about now.

She rolled over to look at the chrono and suppressed a sigh. She’d have to wake him soon so he could get back to work. He was never truly happy unless he was at work. Or tied up in her bed, but that was another matter. But she wasn’t done observing him yet. He looked serious in his sleep, yet his dark brows were relaxed. His black hair was all over the place and somehow that was completely adorable. His long nose, his high cheekbones, his birthmark, his full lips – everywhere seemed a potential target for her kisses.

She indulged, leaning forward and kissing the end of his nose. His forehead scrunched up at that, and slowly his deep blue eyes fluttered open. Force, he was gorgeous. Even if she hadn’t been able to trust him, she wouldn’t kick him out of her bed until he betrayed her. And since she could trust him implicitly, her heart was painfully full of her feelings and she wanted to smother him in them. But that might be a bit much for him when he’d just woken. He was a lot older than her. Old man, she thought teasingly at him.

He smiled a tiny smile. “Good morning.”

“Indeed,” she responded with her own smile.

He yawned and stretched, shifting the bed under her, beginning to sit up. “Should see what the analysts turned up…” His accent was blurred with sleep.

“Relax,” she said soothingly, pulling him close and smushing his face into her chest, into her cleavage, indulging in some of that smothering. Restraint was a taboo word among Sith, after all. The skin on his back was smooth under her arms, but the hair of his chest was rough against her belly. “While we should rise soon, there’s no law in the galaxy that says we have to instantly. And in fact I will hurt you if you leave now. It’s still our wedding night.”

She felt him reluctantly let the tension drain from his shoulders, his gut, but he chuckled into her breasts as his arms slid around her waist. “Understood, my lady.”

She stuck out her tongue at him, and he glanced up and caught sight of it, and struggled free enough to devour her mouth with kisses.

 

In the early afternoon, their preparations to depart were completed, and Akuliina and her companions made their way to the Kaas City spaceport. The Count and Countess had already left in their own private yacht, which would probably arrive rather more quickly than the Fury – the yacht was smaller and the engines newer, the latest pinnacle of Kuati engineering. They were going to have to make a stop partway to their destination, and arrived at the orbital station of a little-known planet to refuel after four days.

There should have been no way anyone knew they were there. There should have been no reason for a battle cruiser to be stationed at this planet, too insignificant for either the Empire or the Republic to claim, but a cruiser there was, aggressively approaching the station, turbolasers primed.

Seconds after they’d docked, the first volley struck the station, rocking it and vapourizing a full wing. Quinn shouted in surprise before he recovered himself, reaching instinctively for the shield controls. “Strap in, please,” he said into the intercomm, disengaging the docking clamps. “The station is under attack.” He couldn’t help the confused tension leaking into his voice.

As he opened the throttle, it became apparent that it wasn’t the station, but they themselves who were under attack. The cruiser left the burning husk of the station and came in their direction, and he juked and weaved around subsequent volleys. He was a good pilot, and knew how to use the ship to her fullest potential, but the Fury wasn’t a tiny nimble fighter. Their best chance was to run for the planet and escape later. Akuliina came running into the cockpit, bracing herself against his manoeuvres. “Who is it?”

“I don’t know, but they’re coming for the Fury,” he said. “Strap in, please.”

“Evryn really doesn’t want me interfering, does he,” she muttered, reaching for her command seat-

A laser blast struck the Fury, tearing through the shields and jolting her from her course, and before he could correct it, something exploded in the rear of the ship. Akuliina fell with a cry, and he clung to the controls with gritted teeth. The instruments confirmed his guess: one of the engines had been struck, and they were going to crash on that planet.

Lasers were still flashing past them, and their unpredictable descent was aiding them now, but he still felt a slow creeping crawl of panic into his throat as he realized he wasn’t going to be able to pull them out of this one with skill alone.

 

Chapter 3: Living Death

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