Queen of Kuat: Chapter 8 – Firestorm

Ooooh soundtracks! Charging into battle with tanks; charging into battle with soldiers; charging into battle against the final boss. And then more battle after that! How much fighting is there in this story? Sheesh.

This chapter has another disturbing violence/gore moment. Also some winkwinknudgenudge.

Chapter 7: Outnumbered

 

Chapter 8: Firestorm

When she woke, she was lying on a pile of rubble and the sun was rising over the horizon. She’d run this way and that as the orbital bombardment had struck the area around the factory, zig-zagging away from the conflict zone in a futile effort to find a spot that wouldn’t mean instant death, until a blastwave behind her had picked her up and thrown her away. Her entire body was tender and aching, but she couldn’t feel any broken bones, even though there was a big chunk of duracrete lying across her legs. The Force had shielded her well, perhaps the only reason she was still alive without a helmet or heavy armour. That, and pure luck – otherwise known as the Force’s will – that she hadn’t been obliterated like her father.

That idiot. She’d specifically told them not to initiate an orbital bombardment for this very reason. She closed her eyes for a moment, reaching out in the Force for her enemies. She felt nothing. Now she had to chase them down again in order to kill them. If they were dead, she wouldn’t find much. Somehow she didn’t think Calamit would be dead, if the bombardment had been his idea. That was fine; his death would be utterly gruesome. With a snarl, she kicked the chunk of duracrete off her and hauled herself to her feet. She was still alive. That was all she needed to win – life, the Force, and her lightsabers. And even the lightsabers were optional.

“My lord!” Agent Elshinix was approaching at a run from down the street. “My lord, you unhurt?”

“I’m fine, Agent,” she said, clipping her lightsabers to her belt and making her way down carefully from the pile of rubble. She wondered why the Chiss had returned to her. “Glad to see you are, too. What’s the situation?”

“Lord Calamit made his way by speeder north, out of the city. I have not found any trace of Lord Kadolan yet. Commodore Quinn assured me the space battle has been resolved, and then charged me with locating you. He waits for news even now.”

Akuliina checked her pocket for her commlink. It appeared to be intact. She tapped it, then opened a channel. “Akuliina to Quinn.”

“My lady!” His voice was full of unabashed relief. “You’re alive! We’ve been scanning as we mop up, but found no trace of your survival…”

“Searching for a single life form near a city from orbit will do that,” she said lightly. “So the space battle has been won, eh?”

“The Revenant was destroyed, all other resistance has surrendered or been forced to withdraw, and only one section of the station was damaged. Tyrant’s Pride and Shadowwalker have taken serious damage; the Golden Conqueror and Thunderbolt less so. The Volkov ships are nigh-unscathed, and we only lost half our complement of fighters. Our… allies are in reasonably good shape as well.”

“Better than I expected. I’ve felt no sign of Evryn, and I’m told Calamit escaped. I’m going after him.”

“Be careful, my lady. Scans show considerable fortifications in the mountains around the city.”

“Oh, I’m certain it’s yet another trap,” she said airily. “But I don’t intend to let him get away.”

“You won’t, my lady. I’ll be standing by.”

“Do that,” she said, and shut off the comm. “Agent, do we have transportation?”

“Not yet, but your apprentice is coming with the speeders. Her ETA is eight and a half minutes.”

She sighed. “I suppose eight and a half minutes won’t make or break his inevitable ambush. Let’s head north, she can join us on the way.”

 

North of the city was quiet and bare, a weapons testing ground where only grass grew and puesur crickets and womp rats lived. A lone road led north through the wilderness, heading up into the mountains where eventually the valley broadened again into a rolling plateau. She stopped where the valley broadened out again, Jaesa and Elshinix parking beside her, and looked out through macrobinoculars.

The fortress at the far side of the plain was heavily fortified, bristling with emplacements, crowned with an anti-bombardment shield that meant Quinn would not be able to soften them up for her. Tanks and heavy artillery were set up around the fortress, more pouring out even as she watched, and they were all pointed at her. Dozens of heavy cannons of all different types; it was quite intimidating, if she was in the mood to be intimidated.

She passed the macrobinoculars to Jaesa. She could mostly see the massing army with her naked eyes, now that she knew how to look. Agent Elshinix had her own pair. “This might be it, Jaesa.”

“It’s sure a lot of firepower,” Jaesa replied. “But you know what that just means.”

“More targets,” Akuliina agreed, smirking to herself. “Do you think we’ll survive long enough to kill Calamit?”

Jaesa grinned at her. “You can overcome anything, Master. If I go down here today, it’ll be an honour to have served you so long. It’s gonna be a hard fight, though.”

“It is,” Akuliina said. “I wouldn’t mind having a bit more of an edge.” Elshinix cast a look askance at them both; she might have rolled her eyes, but since she was Chiss, Akuliina couldn’t actually tell.

“Hell, I’m not dying to these clumsy weapons, so you better not, Master!”

“As if,” Akuliina said, snorting. After all she’d done, how much she’d suffered and fought over this ridiculous conflict, when she was carrying Quinn’s child, to die here seemed completely unreasonable. So she wouldn’t give him a goodbye call. Even though this might be goodbye, despite her best efforts. But Jaesa believed in her.

She and Jaesa suddenly glanced to the sky and nudged their bikes forward a bit; Agent Elshinix followed reflexively. A massive drop-pod slammed into the ground behind them, unfolding into a siege tank. Another one fell, and another one, and there was a sudden swarm of shuttles appearing over the mountains to the south. Some of them had the insignia of the Shadowwalker, her own infantry carrier. That was more like it. Bless Quinn for anticipating her needs.

Her comm went off – twice. She answered it quickly. “I trust this will be of use to you,” Countess Mareet said. A troop transport rolled up to her and her mother emerged, still in her robes, her commlink to her lips and a smug smile on her face very much like Akuliina’s own.

“Why yes, thank you, this is splendid,” Akuliina said. “I assume you coordinated with the Commodore?”

“Countess Mareet has filled me in on the situation entirely,” Quinn’s precise tones came through the commlink. “Please inform me if there’s anything else I can do to assist you.”

“I think this will be sufficient,” she said saucily. “I’ll see you soon.”

One of the tanks rolled up next to them, its top hatch open and a man in a Major’s uniform leaning out of it. “My lord! Major Ostrenko reporting! I am at your command!”

“We’ll head around the east side of the valley and roll up their flank,” she ordered. “Your objective is to open that gate and get me inside; I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Yes, sir!” The Major disappeared back inside his tank, already barking orders.

“Shall we race?” Countess Mareet asked her daughter.

“I’ll win,” Akuliina said.

“Never underestimate a bereaved woman,” Mareet said. “I want my revenge.”

“He took my father and almost took my Commodore,” Akuliina retorted. “I know a fair bit about bereavement at his hands as well.”

Her mother inclined her head. “I look forward to seeing your feelings in combat, then.”

As her mother disappeared back into her transport, Akuliina revved her speeder bike and grinned at Jaesa. “Only try and keep up with me!”

“Easy,” Jaesa retorted. “Let’s go!”

She opened the throttle as far as it would go and streaked across the valley, Jaesa and Elshinix riding in her wake. Lasers from the fort’s defense turrets and shells from enemy artillery crashed around her; one shell hit a Volkov tank which exploded with a 200 meter-tall cloud of fire. She needed to get closer, to get right up in the enemy artillery, destroy their crews to make way for her own forces to blow open the fort. The ground shook beneath her repulsors, red light flashing on all sides, and the constant sound of the explosions was deafening – and exhilarating. She found herself grinning involuntarily as she flitted around the laser blasts, her heart thrumming within her as she leaned low over the handlebars, the wind beating against her face and through her hair.

She was beneath the foot of the first huge gun. They couldn’t fire on her now without striking their own equipment and men. Though Calamit would probably order them to do it anyway – she wasn’t flattering herself when she estimated that killing her was far more important than avoiding friendly fire. She braked to a hard stop, skidding around in a drifting curve to the rear of the gun, leaping off her bike almost before it had finished and springing on its crew, lightsabers blazing. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jaesa going for another gun. Agent Elshinix had dropped back to blend in with the other troops.

Were they close enough yet? No, there was still some fighting to do before she could enter the fort. She left the bike and ran on foot ahead. A tank came rumbling towards her, aiming to run her down and crush her, firing on her with its anti-personnel gun. She dodged and blocked, moving to the side, forcing it to either turn and track her and be vulnerable to her own tanks, or go straight and weather whatever attack she had planned. It went straight. She stabbed her lightsaber into the treads, almost losing her grip on it – lightsabers could cut through almost anything, even cortosis if given long enough, but even regular durasteel could withstand it for a short while.

Her senses twinged, and she turned to see another tank aiming directly at her with its main gun. She yanked her lightsaber free, but she wasn’t going to dodge its blast entirely, and if it exploded the tank behind her, she would be caught in it.

A sniper rifle’s crack was hilariously small-sounding under the cannon-fire, but the tank that was aiming at her suddenly exploded from within. Agent Elshinix had detonated the shell while it was still in the tank. An excellent shot. She was running to get clear of the tank she was beside, and moments later a shot from one of her own tanks destroyed it.

She reached the wall of the fortress and took stock of the field. Most of her forces were under the anti-bombardment shield, though she’d lost quite a few tanks to the fort’s emplacements. The enemy still had many tanks and cannons, but her own had a clear shot to the gate.

“Fire! Fire on the gate! Then withdraw!” she cried into her commlink, pointing unnecessarily, and at least three of the tanks responded. It took several volleys before the tunnel into the base transformed into a twisted, flaming ruin – but open and clear to proceed through. She leapt over the flaming rubble, facing a double line of troopers with raised rifles; she cut into them, lightsabers whirling, blaster shots bouncing away from her. She knew they were only there to slow her down, that they were spending their lives uselessly. She didn’t care in this mood, swooping on them like thunder, blood rushing through her like coloured light, exultant in her power and speed. Jaesa and her mother were a breath behind her, and Agent Elshinix was in the middle of two squads of her own troopers, Pierce and Broonmark among them. Even Vette was here, though further back with other specialists.

She stormed into the command centre and slowed to a halt. The two-story chamber was lined with Sith apprentices down each side, fifteen or sixteen at the least, a full two squads of soldiers, and Calamit standing on the second-story level at the back, looking down on them all. The analysts and coordinators at their posts were looking nervous, and some would clearly have fled if only the Sith apprentices were not so close to them.

Agent Elshinix holstered her pistol and unslung her long black sniper rifle. “I’m going to set up further back, my lord. Best of luck.”

“Pierce, take this squad, stay near the entrance and secure our exit.” Akuliina glanced at Jaesa. “I’ll take the right, you take the left?”

“I’m assuming you want Calamit, right?”

“Did you even have to ask?” Akuliina said, and glanced at her mother. My kill.

“He’s all yours, darling,” Mareet Volkova said with a slight bow. “I’ll be watching while I tear the rest of your enemies limb from limb.”

Akuliina nodded and charged into the melee.

The Dark Side was surging through her, fearless and tireless and unstoppable, a hot wind blowing around her from the fiery destruction outside. The apprentices before her gnashed their teeth and brandished their lightsabers, dressed identically in black hooded robes. Undeveloped weaklings, she thought, and let out her rage in a roar that sent them all stumbling back. She hacked through them piecemeal and swept on without a backwards look, leaving them for her mother. She leapt to the second story level without taking the stairs and found that Calamit had not waited around for her; she probed and found his dark presence retreating through corridors towards an elevator. Would she be able to catch him before he reached it?

Her legs were getting tired and she was getting frustrated at not being able to vent her rage properly on its intended target – though the explosions had been very satisfying, it was true. But she couldn’t be distracted. She hacked down a door and burst into another database room. Calamit was on the other side of the room, and seemed to have paused. Without another thought she was after him, vaulting analyst desks and crashing through old-fashioned glass display screens – and holoprojections, though they weren’t as satisfying.

A chair caught her in the middle of a jump, flinging her painfully across another computer console. He was throwing things at her! Snarling, she cut apart another chair and a fire extinguishing canister with her lightsaber before she could slide to her feet and keep coming, alert for more flying objects and either dodging them or slicing them apart. Her movements were less acrobatic now; she bulled straight through the computers – slower, but making her less of a target.

He was trying to slip away between the spaces between computers, but turned, reaching out his hand to stall her progress. “You foolish child, what do you think you will accomplish by this?”

“Killing you,” she snarled, fire in her belly scorching through her veins, fighting through air that was suddenly thick as mud. “You killed my father. You tried to steal my best officer. You’ve proven yourself more of a threat than you’re worth. I’ll rule Kuat over your smouldering corpse and the Empire will know her greatness more than ever!”

“I am the only one who can rule Kuat. Only I have the experience, the knowledge, to make the most of her capabilities for the glory of the Empire. You’ll destroy all that you fight for if you continue this!”

“Bite me,” she hissed, lunging forward. There was no backing down without death for either of them now. “You’d wreck the Empire to preserve your own little piece of it!”

“I’d almost rather Kadolan ruled than you,” Calamit grumbled, and she shrieked at him in outrage, but he didn’t flinch at the surge of power. The elevator had opened to him, and though she reached it a moment after he did, slashed through the closing doors, it whisked him away.

She ran for the stairs. He’d be on the roof now. She hadn’t seen any shuttles up there, but he could have moved one there while she was inside. He couldn’t get away again.

He was waiting for her there, with no shuttle, only stacks of crates to hide behind. So he thought he could beat her here, then. She smiled. He had nowhere left to run. And though violent emotions were washing through her, she was still relatively clear-minded. She wouldn’t be caught out like she had been with Trathinus.

“You’ve no allies left up here,” he called to her. “You are alone and outmatched. You’ve lost.”

She laughed wildly. “You’ve nowhere left to run. You’re doomed.”

“Believe what you like, it changes nothing.” She saw the turrets angling to fire on the roof and figured the time for words was finished. Lips stretched in a feral smile, she bounded forward, feeling the Force in every step, looking for traps.

No pressure traps. But Calamit reached out, lifted one of the speeder-sized crates effortlessly, and hurled it at her. She ducked backwards, skidding forwards on her knees, her skull almost cracking on the roof, watching the crate miss her face by centimetres, then leapt up again. There was another one behind it, of course, and she threw herself against it and bounced off boots first, clambering over it as it tumbled side-over-side. And another one, with a little more of a pause to catch her out in. Good, he wasn’t setting a rhythm. He was keeping it challenging. All she had to do was close with him, and all he had to do was keep her away long enough that the turrets could fire on her.

Except… they weren’t firing. She glanced out of the corner of her eye long enough to catch a glimpse of a yellow double-bladed lightsaber and a violet lightsaber and laughed to herself. Jaesa and her mother had clearly finished up downstairs and had decided to deal with everything else that wasn’t Calamit. Good apprentice. Initiative will be rewarded.

A rain of smaller crates pelted her; she hopped laterally and blasted them back, scattering them across the deck. He slammed a big crate before her like a wall, and with a bound she grabbed the edge, pulling herself up and over, leaping on him as fire flooded her veins in triumph. He tried to freeze her in the air as he’d done before, but though she felt resistance, she was still searing through it, landing before him by sheer willpower. She pressed him closely now, glaring into his near-white grey eyes, backing him towards the edge. His lip was curled in a contemptuous, arrogant snarl, no fear in him even as she swung directly at his body. He tried to turn, to sidestep and change their positions, but she countered that, boxing him in with quick sliding steps of her own. As he reached out to choke her, she ducked under his defense and slashed, and severed his hand at the wrist. He howled and tried to Force-push her away with the other hand, but she weathered that and drove further, cutting off his other arm at the shoulder. Between the pain and the lack of mnemonic gestures, he was completely helpless. Much the way Quinn had been in his grasp. The way her father had been under bombardment.

“And now,” she ground out, “I keep my promises.” She shut off her lightsabers and reached out, locking an unbreakable grip on his throat. With her other hand, she formed a fist, and began to pull, slowly, inexorably, mercilessly.

Calamit fought her, his strength in the Force diminished but not snuffed out. She felt a band squeezing her own throat, a pressure in her brain, but his power was draining out of him like the blood from his wrist and shoulder – and soon he was distracted by other things. Like the slow, hideous sucking sound as the flesh of his face began to pull apart.

He was helpless, completely helpless, and she thrilled in vengeful glee as she felt his life flee his body in torment, the withered old flesh-sack falling limp in her grip. She let it collapse to the ground and kicked the corpse from the wall, watching it fall, down, down, down, bouncing and sliding its way to the parade ground far below. A bloody trail followed it.

Turning, she saw Jaesa, the Countess, and Agent Elshinix standing there. “Fort is secure, we killed pretty much everyone else,” Jaesa said. “That was fun, let’s do it again.”

“I’ll need a new reason to take revenge on someone, then,” Akuliina said.

“It seems that Kuat is now yours,” Mareet Volkova said. “Well done, darling. It was a thrill to see you destroy that old fossil. You did finish off Evryn first, did you not?”

Akuliina paused. “I do not know what became of him. It’s possible he died in the bombardment. I won’t let my guard down yet.”

“Congratulations, master,” Jaesa said, grinning. “Let’s go party!”

“You can go party,” Akuliina said, amused by her priorities. “I’m going to have lunch.” She raised her commlink to her mouth. “Commodore, come in.”

“My lady, it’s good to hear from you. All’s well up here.”

“Calamit is dead. Send me a shuttle?”

“Right away, my lady.”

 

She stepped onto the bridge of the Conqueror, observing the post-battle bustle with interest. While by this point most of the important issues had been taken care of, it wasn’t quite business as usual yet. At least two consoles were covered in extinguishing foam and hadn’t been repaired or even cleaned off. The main damage readout showed several hits along the flanks, serious but nothing catastrophic. Tyrant’s Pride would take much longer to rebuild in comparison.

Quinn seemed to sense her and turned to greet her with a small bow. “Welcome home, my lady.”

“Thank you, Quinn. Hello, Captain. Have you made contact with the docks yet?”

“Yes, my lady. Your- The Volkov facilities are being made ready for us even now.”

“Good.” She didn’t bat an eye at Quinn avoiding mention of her parents, her father. If he wanted to be sensitive about it, that was his affair.

“With Calamit’s confirmed death, the Drive Yards as a whole have declared their neutrality. They have no cause to be hostile now.”

“Of course.” And they would be cautious around her, for now. “And Captain Lannes, what is his stance now?”

“He says he was ordered to assist me when you commandeered the ships in the system, and that has not changed as far as I know. Would you like to speak with him?”

“Yes.” She moved forward and glanced expectantly at Hayna.

Captain Lannes appeared after a few moments and greeted her with a lower bow than Quinn had. “My lord, it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise, Captain. I am given to understand you were ordered to assist me; who gave that order, and why?”

“I am not at liberty to say who gave the order, and I am not in the habit of speculating about my superiors, my lord.”

She gave him an arch glance. “A sensible attitude, but who now is your superior?”

He hesitated briefly. “They are, my lord. I am sure they will reveal themselves and their reasons to you in their own time.”

“Very well,” she said. “As for you, I will consider your integrity when I reform Kuat’s defences.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

She shut off the call. “Though I imagine you will have to work with him some before you can properly trust him, after this whole kaggath fiasco,” she said to Quinn. “This is one reason why they’re such a nuisance…”

“Agreed,” he said. She could tell he wanted to say more, but she’d heard his strong opinions on the matter in private before, and that one word spoke the volumes he’d already said.

“And now… Kuat.”

“The planet is yours now, is it not?”

“Certainly. A little sooner than I had expected, yet not unpleasant to acknowledge. Hayna, be a dear and contact the palace in Kuat City? I don’t know who will be there, but the court must know definitively who their new master is.”

As Hayna saluted and began her task, Quinn stepped nearer to Akuliina and spoke with a lowered voice. “Lord Kadolan is not confirmed dead, though, correct?”

“If he still lives, he’s welcome to form his own government after he’s defeated me. If he still lives and chooses to carry on his romantic rebel-in-the-wilderness routine, I’ll hunt him down and purge him. His lack of a resounding victory here will cost him, anyway. I’m not sure they’ll want him in charge after his ships left him and he was taken out by orbital bombardment.”

The holocomm flicked on, and she was met by an austere-looking droid. “Greetings, sire.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And you are…?”

“I am the chief administrative assistant to the Lord of Kuat, sire.”

“So my rule is accepted?”

“By all technicalities, yes, sire. If you wish a formal gathering of the court, I can schedule one at once.”

“Yes. I will meet with them… tomorrow, at the palace, at 1200 local time.” Mid-afternoon, in Kuat’s slightly-shorter-than-galactic-standard day. She’d have scheduled it for earlier, but she suspected that once she fell asleep, she was going to keep sleeping for some time, though she didn’t feel tired yet.

“I will issue the commands at once, sire. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes. I want a full inventory of the damage sustained in this entire conflict, especially over the last standard day. I want to see what’s been done to repair the damage up to this point, and who will be available to take care of the rest. I want to know which shipyards are currently still viable production points, and a complete readout of the economic situation.” She wouldn’t read it until tomorrow morning Kuat City time, but the order needed to be given now. “Kuat needs stability, and to recover from this situation as rapidly as may be.”

“Yes, sire. I will compile the information and transmit it as soon as it is ready.”

“Good. That is all.” She turned to Quinn as the holocomm shut off. “I would also like to have a complete summary of the available military forces in the system, sorted by combat-readiness and house allegiance.”

“Understood, my lady.”

She nodded approvingly at him with a slight smile. “I am retiring to my chambers. Carry on.” And he had better delegate that task and follow her within the hour.

 

He waited an appropriate amount of time after she’d left before he retired from his station on the bridge, leaving Cheyomar in command of the situation in space. Not that anything should happen. Kadolan’s former fleet was keeping the peace, and Calamit’s was gone. He was on call if the situation did get out of hand, but he’d earned a bit of a rest, though not as much as Akuliina. No doubt she had injuries she was overriding, although what she really needed most was sleep – spending part of the night unconscious in a pile of rubble didn’t count.

The door to her room – their room – slid open and she was there, catching his hands and dragging him inside, locking the door before flinging her arms around his neck to pull him down for passionate kisses. He trapped her in his embrace, enjoying the moment of relaxation. “Someone’s in a good mood tonight.”

“It was hardly midday where I left,” she commented between more kisses. “Should I not? I defeated the man who tried to take you from me. Murdered him horribly. It was very satisfying.”

“You’re not injured?” he asked, side-stepping the fact that killing people horribly made her so very happy, focusing on the fact that she was alive and didn’t have to kill anyone horribly for a while now.

“Not that I know of. The medical droid looked me over already. No, I have something better to discuss.” She ended the sentence with a bite at his lip. “I’d like to reward you somehow.”

He blinked at her, confused. “I- what do you mean? I only did my duty.”

“You endured a great deal on my behalf, brought me through some very difficult situations, and accomplished a sound victory with a limited amount of resources and minimal collateral damage to the Empire. I’d say that’s deserving of a reward. Not a public one, it would be improper. But an improper reward… you more than deserve it.” She smiled confidently at him, and he found himself captured in her eyes.

“You have my interest,” he said. “Shouldn’t we rest first?” Though, even though she seemed tired, she still seemed to have energy – enough energy for proposed activities, certainly. And he’d exerted himself far less physically than she had, hardly any energy in comparison to when running about after her.

“You can if you wish,” she said. “But I thought I’d make you aware of the offer now.”

“What is the offer, then?”

She hesitated, and his interest was really piqued. “How would you like to tie me up again and do whatever you want to me?”

“But you hate that. I don’t want to do something you hate.”

“It’s not that I hate it,” she interrupted him. “I hate being helpless. But I trust you, you know. And I know you like being in control sometimes. And it’s been a while since we’ve done it.”

While that was true, and he appreciated how much she did trust him, his brain was catching up, and he had some questions still. Hopefully she would allow him to ask. “Should this really be a reward for doing my duty?” he asked. “That seems a bit unethical.”

“Do you fear that if you underperform in battle, I will stop spontaneously initiating adventurous or experimental encounters? Quinn, do you even know me and my insatiable desire for you?”

“While correlating sex and job performance is also a concern…” She huffed and turned away, radiating angry hurt. “I- Forgive me, Akuliina. But I need no reward. I shouldn’t be rewarded for successfully damaging the Empire, even a fraction, and I certainly shouldn’t be rewarded by or through your preference for me.”

She turned back to him, sighing. Surely she’d predicted he’d react this way. “But you’ve done so well, and I wish to show my appreciation somehow.”

“Should you even love me?” he asked, taking her hands in his, so small compared to his, yet so strong. “Is love not a weakness? Did not that pawn of our former master say it was born of the light?” Draahg had tried to taunt her about him, he’d learned, shortly before she’d disemboweled him.

She snorted. “Love is neither light nor dark. If it were light, why would the Jedi fear it so? And if it were dark, why would it inspire feelings of… leniency… and… compassion, towards the beloved?”

“Surely the Jedi fearing something isn’t proof of anything.”

Her eyes flashed. “All right, then, would I murder two hundred people just to get you back?”

That had happened long enough in the past he could accept the matter-of-factness of her statement. He leaned forward and breathed into her ear. “You’d do it because you’re a possessive bitch.”

She sighed in pleasure as if he’d just paid her an elaborate compliment. “Oh, Malavai, I am a possessive bitch. I adore when you call me that. Now make up your mind.”

“Well,” he said, kissing her soundly, “I’m not that tired. I’m up for it if you are.”

 

Fifteen minutes later, she was suspended from the ceiling over the bed, strong supple rope holding her spread-eagled as if free-falling. She shivered as he kissed a line from collarbone to ear, stroking the small of her back in that one spot that drove her crazy, watching her bite her lip impatiently. Oh, she’d have to wait for it. This was what she’d asked for.

He was thoroughly distracted by the patterns of faded scars across her skin when suddenly she tensed, her gaze flicking towards the door urgently. “Get me down!”

“Wh-”

A scarlet lightsaber stabbed through the centre of the door before he could complete his question, even as he moved to unhook her from the ceiling. Not something to be ignored, and not Jaesa on a tantrum, then. She was wriggling in her bonds, on the verge of actual panic, before he managed to unhook one leg. This was too slow. He grabbed her lightsaber from the side table and cut through the other leg ropes before the intruder managed to hack through the door.

He felt an invisible blow to the chest and was sent flying to the other side of the room; before he could get up, he felt a crushing pain around his genitals. Now that was just low.

Evryn Kadolan stalked into the room, taking in the sight of the two of them as he sauntered up the ramp to the balcony bedroom. He looked a bit battered, his armour burned down one side, his face covered in dirt and soot. “I wondered if you were bedding him. Even when you were reaching for power you never could keep your priorities straight. And to choose a Force-less weakling like him? And let him do this to you? How weak-minded you are, indeed.”

“He’s better in bed than you,” she hissed, trying to pull the hooks free from the ceiling. “He’s better than you in every way. How did you get in?” He needed to get up, get her free, but as he moved, the awful pain intensified and forced him back down.

Kadolan scoffed. “Your security is a joke. I came back with your own troop shuttles. Your beast is unconscious in his closet. Better than me in every way? He’s weak, clueless, a snail with no shell. And I’m bigger than him.”

“I’m not even going to tell you how stupid you sound,” Akuliina growled, and strained with the fingers of her left hand towards Quinn. She yanked the lightsaber away from him, catching it and slashing through what remained of her bonds, leaning away reflexively from Kadolan’s horizontal strike, then battering his attacks back. She jumped down from the bed, gaining better footing, moving on the attack.

He crept over to his blaster pistol, fighting against the unrelenting pain in his abdomen. Wasn’t the first time he’d felt this, although he felt dirty that it wasn’t Akuliina’s power that was being used on him. He felt dirtier that it was during an emergency combat situation.

The combatants had completely forgotten about him, lost in their hatred, hacking at each other with brutal, unelegant strikes. She seemed completely unaware that she was naked except for the remaining ropes wrapped around arms and legs, defenceless except for her lightsaber alone. But despite the fact that she was fighting as well as ever, Kadolan appeared to be winning, pushing her slowly back into a corner… Quinn chose his moment, rose to one knee, sighted, and fired.

Kadolan’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and he fell backwards, a small neat hole in the back of his head. The crushing pain vanished. Akuliina’s mouth also opened in surprise, and she looked from Kadolan to Quinn and back with wide, astonished eyes.

“Apparently I am better than you in every way,” Quinn sneered at Kadolan’s body as he rose to his feet, blaster still in hand in case the headshot hadn’t been enough. “Not least of which is being alive.”

She gave a shuddering gasp, made a forceful gesture with her hand, and the body went flying out of the room. Then she slammed the blast door shut – that still worked at least – and shut off the lightsaber and turned to him, advancing on him.

Ought he to be nervous? He couldn’t read her wild expression, and her lightsaber, though off, was still in her hand… “I’m sorry? Did you want to kill him?”

“Oh, Malavai Quinn,” she said, breathily, and he swallowed hard. She flung the lightsaber away and dove on him, throwing her arms about his shoulders. “I’m going to make love to you like you’ve never felt in your life.”

He swallowed again. “Right, then.”

“Although I think we’ll save the bondage for another night.”

“Fair enough.”

 

 

Chapter 9: The Queen

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