Beyond The Soulreaper Chronicles (Far Future, OCs)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by JABrown, Nov 8, 2012.

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  1. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Hi all,

    This is a new story I have been working on, probably the most out-there fan fiction I’ve ever attempted. The initial idea springs from a small gripe I have with the Expanded Universe material: when you look at the Star Wars universe’s history, it seems to be a constant back and forth between the Jedi and the Sith, from the Old Republic, through the Empire and even beyond to the current Legacy comics, which while heading further into the future still share those familiar characteristics.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I love all of that stuff, but I thought it would be interesting to try and take the Star Wars universe in a completely different direction.

    Thus - Star Wars: The Soulreaper Chronicles.

    The setting for this Star Wars story is a galaxy far different from the one in the films. Five centuries after Return of the Jedi, a new alien race has swept aside the races we know, leaving only a handful of planets safe from a strange affliction known as the Wyrding. The lines between Jedi and Sith have become murky as survival becomes the only priority.

    Into this new galactic situation comes our hero, Danil Farwood, a man trained in the ways of the Force, but who is neither Jedi nor Sith. A man with a gift – the ability to steal the souls of other beings, both alive or dead. A man trained as an assassin but who now works as a thieftaker, tracking down murderers for a fee.

    Step into his galaxy, a galaxy far, far away from the one we know but whose roots remain a long, long time ago…

    Disclaimer: This is a harsher galaxy than the one we are used to and a more violent one. You have been warned.

    Chapter One

    The dead Rodian’s screams echoed in my head, making my hangover that much worse.

    Keeping to the back of the line of riders, I cast an eye back towards Mos Eisley, wishing I was back in bed. The twin suns beat down on us, reflecting off the sand to pierce my eyes. I groaned. Turning away, I studied my companions – twelve constables in dark grey and green uniforms, along with the local Imperial commander wearing a dark grey imperial navy suit, his shoulders emblazoned with the four red and blue rectangles of his rank.

    And me, of course, Danil Farwood, in my dirty grey coat and blood red trousers. I pulled my floppy hat further down to protect my eyes and held on to the bantha for dear life.

    We kept to the ‘road’ that left Mos Eisley and headed into the desert, but the sand had pretty much erased whatever track might once have existed. All of us suffered in the heat, though the commander seemed almost immune. The stench of the banthas seemed even stronger beneath the suns.

    I ignored the smell as best I could. I already felt sick. That lum ale had been potent stuff. Still, I had yet to find a better remedy for the screaming voices in my head.

    Pitiless light, heat and death plagued the world around us, the very air clawing what little moisture we had left from our skin. There was something to be said for the Sand People’s moisture suits, I thought. I tried to ignore the heat, staring straight ahead, forcing my eyes not to dart to the poor sod, hands bound in front of him, sat astride the last bantha.

    He was old and bent, his body gnawed by hunger. His clothes were ragged and sodden with dirt, blood and sweat. He could barely open his eyes from the beatings he had received, but he still glared at me whenever he got the chance.

    One of the constables, who had accompanied me in my investigations, guided his bantha back towards me, humming. He glanced at me, looked away, then grunted.

    “What?” I growled. Drink and guilt make for poor bedfellows. I had seen more than my fair share of men die. I was not enthusiastic about seeing another, especially when I was sending him to his death.

    “You don’t look happy.” It was almost a question.

    “Happy?” I peered over at him from beneath the brim of my hat. “Why by the… Why would I be happy?”

    “To see justice done. To see a man punished for his crimes. To see…”

    To see a man die for protecting his family? To watch him left to the mercy of the Sand People? No, I wasn’t happy. I had picked up the contract three days before, contacted on Coruscant by a Hutt who I had done some work for in the past. Someone had attacked one of his minion’s sons, stabbed him three times with a knife and left him to bleed out in a repair yard. When the local constabulary failed, the boy’s father had turned to his boss, Garda the Hutt, who had come to me. I had accepted, hoping I could do some good… And that I might get a nice commission for the doing.

    - Good? Faw!

    I bit back a sigh as the familiar voice cut through the screams in my head.

    - I wondered when you would wake up, I thought back.

    - Well, what time of the morning do you call this? The suns are barely up.

    - Justice doesn’t wait for breakfast, I replied wryly.

    - Justice can suckle on my…

    - What do you want, Lucan?

    - Want? I was sleeping comfortably until you started thinking so loud. Besides, what good did you think you would find? A Sith conspiracy? A threat to the Empire? You’re not working for Tiss anymore, boy. And you should know by now that the reason for all crimes is either sex or money.

    I scowled. The constable blanched slightly and allowed his bantha to fall even further back. By the Force, did I look that bad?

    Lucan was right, though. Once I had reaped fragments of the dead soul, a few days wandering Mos Eisley, haunting the Rodian’s usual haunts and speaking to his friends, lovers and enemies brought me a soul-vision of him raping this moisture farmer’s two daughters, three of his cronies looking on and laughing. Not hard to envision the rest.

    - Go away, Lucan.

    This time, I heard him chuckle. Then he vanished away into some distant part of my head.

    Lord Lucan. The first and only man to ever ask me to reap his soul – and the only one who stayed with me. I rarely reap a soul at the moment of death, when it is still relatively sane. Most of the time it is ravaged pieces, fragments that drift somewhere in my mind like gossamer threads, rising to the surface when I see or smell or do something to trigger them. I’ve only ever reaped two such souls. Lucan was the second.

    Murmured curses filled the sharp air, bringing me back to the present. The lieutenant hailed us to a stop at the bottom of a large dune a few miles from the city. Strange iron posts, twisted and festooned with pieces of cloth and shards of bone, surrounded the small depression. A larger post, carved with arcane pictograms, rose out of the sand in the middle. A Tusken judging post.

    While the guards spread out in ceremonial fashion, I slid off the bantha’s back, took off my hat and began to wave it in front of my face to create some air. I studied the post, a shiver running down my spine. Hard to believe that once upon a time the men I was with would have torn such a post down, smashing it to pieces as proof of the Sand People’s savageness. That had been before the Release. Before the Wyrding.

    The farmer was forced to his knees before the lieutenant, who sat his bantha with all the cold dignity required of the Empress’ Justice. He stared down at the man as one of the constables read out the charge.

    “Awold Tow, moisture farmer from Mos Eisley, you are accused of the murder of Kelwa Orn, only son and heir of Min Orn, free merchant of Mos Eisley.” Free merchant? That was a joke. Orn was a smuggler and a thief. “Will you plead?”

    Awold stared past the lieutenant and the soldiers. Right at me. His eyes burned, dry as a bone, a thousand curses springing from their depths. I rubbed a hand over the back of my neck. I could feel a headache coming on.

    One of the constables surged forward, kicking the farmer to the sand. He reached down, grabbing Awold by the scruff of the neck and forcing his head up. “You were asked a question, dog.”

    “I’ll no plead,” Awold said.

    The constable went to slap him again, but the lieutenant’s voice boomed against the dunes.

    “Let him be.”

    Frowning, the constable did as he was told, though not before delivering a swift kick to Awold’s rear end.

    The lieutenant turned to me. “Who accuses this man?”

    With a bitten off curse, I stepped forward. “I do.”

    “On what basis?”

    “On the basis of my solemn word.”

    “And whose word is that?”

    “The word of Danil Farwood, member of the Thieftaker’s Guild.”

    The lieutenant nodded, turning away from me. I wished I could jump back on my bantha and ride away, but I had to see this through to the bitter end if I was going to get paid.

    There were more questions and answers, though all of them avoided the subject of what Kelwa Orn had done to this man’s daughters. Finally, the lieutenant barked a command. Two of the constables came forward, lifting Awold to his feet. Pulling real knives – vibroblades were too few and far between – they cut away his clothes, then turned and marched him to the post.

    We all stood or sat our banthas, and watched. The two guards pushed Awold back against the post, lifting his hands above his head. One of them began to run a rope around and around the post and the farmer, binding him securely. By now, he was weeping softly. He pissed himself, liquid splatter soaked up by the bone dry earth.

    My headache was getting worse.

    As the first constable wrapped the rope around the post, the other one pulled a hammer and nail from his pocket. I winced. They could have just used the rope, but these ‘sacrifices’ as executions had to be done right. I had heard rumours about them ever since arriving on Tatooine, but this was the first time I had witnessed one.

    I forced myself not to turn away as the constable lifted the ancient hammer high above his head. It glinted dully in the harsh sunlight, then there was a swish of metal through air, a hollow thump and a scream.

    Blood burst forth from the man’s palm, dark as old wine. It began to drop down his forearm, his chest, his legs. Blood and tears mingled with the man’s piss at his feet, the parched sand drinking it eagerly.

    Once the ropes were tied off and the hammering completed, both constables walked back to their waiting banthas. The lieutenant guided his own forward.

    “In the name of Empress Gara Thorn, Empress of the Galactic Empire, and by the power vested in me by the name of Moff Mawthew Ensto of Tatooine, I do sentence you to a day and a night. May the twin suns sound your soul and decide your guilt. And if they should find you guilty, may the Peoples of the Sand have mercy on your soul.”

    The farmer began to scream.

    If it were possible, the heat grew even more unbearable as we rode back to Mos Eisley. The man’s screamed pursued us.

    As we drew within sight of the city, I began to feel something building in the back of my head, the unmistakeable feeling of the Force growing steadily. I tried to hurry my bantha along, but now that the lieutenant and his men had no further need for me, I was forced to the back of the group. A wind had arisen, leaving us riding through air thick with sand and choking dust.

    My head was beating like a drum, as if someone was taking the blunt end of a stick to my temples. I gritted my teeth against the pain, rubbing at the back of my neck to try and relieve the pressure. It kept building, though, until the pain was so intense I could hardly see the sand in front of me. Just when I thought it could not get any worse, the Force summons washed over me.

    I have dealt with Force-users long enough to recognise a mental summons when I feel one. They do not come in pictures or words. Instead, I was overcome by an absolute necessity to be where the summoner was. Added to that urge was a distinct identity marker, a flurry of impressions as clear and unmistakeable as blood on fresh snow.

    My mistress needed me. She was on Coruscant. I had to get there as quickly as possible.

    A Force summons takes a lot of Force energy, especially over such a distance. For the person being summoned it is like being hit with eleven stun bolts while holding a conducting rod and standing in a pool of freezing water.

    I yelled, once, and then the darkness swamped me and dragged me down.
    Admiral Volshe likes this.
  2. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Chapter 2

    I woke up. My mind was blank for a moment – I had no idea where I was or how I had gotten there. I stared at the ceiling, a single light swaying in the recycled air above him, waiting for memory to return. When it did, it came with pain.

    I was back in my room at the rear of the tiny cantina I had found in the back streets of Mos Eisley. I felt around – I was lying on the bed, still dressed in the same clothes I had worn out into the desert. Sand rustled against the sheets beneath my hands.

    A hand appeared from my side, holding a cloth dripping with cold water, pressing against my forehead. When I tried to turn my head to see who it was, waves of nausea, pain and dizziness throbbed through my back and side. I let my head fall back, fighting hard not to be sick. By the Force, I felt exhausted. All I wanted was to lie on the bed, curl up and let the suns rise and fall a couple more times.

    Not going to happen. The remnants of the Force summons echoed through my mind, the urgent need to be back on Coruscant pulling at me like an assyyyriak at a Wookie’s guts.

    “What happened?” I managed to croak out.

    The figure by the bed moved forward slightly, and I realised that it was Madame Joclyn, the widower who ran the cantina. Her face, scored by years on Tattooine, looked hard, but she liked to mother every stray man and woman who asked her for board. At that point, I wouldn’t have had her any other way.

    “They carried you in an hour past,” she said, her voice thick from years of spice use. “Those constables. You were running a fever from the sun, mumbling something about Coruscant and a mistress.” She looked me over, as if she had no doubts what kind of mistress I had been talking about. I was too weak to defend himself. “I made them bring you back here straight sharp and got some cold water from the moisture collectors. You looked half a ghost.”

    I lay there for a moment, thinking about what she had said. “Did they leave anything? A credit chit?”

    She frowned, but shook her head. “Nothing like that. Why, should they have?”

    I sighed and shook my head. If I had been feeling up to it, I would have gone back to that damned lieutenant and forced him to pay me. As it was, though, I had to get going. Quick.

    In fact… I struggled to sit up. “I have to go.”

    “None of that now,” Joclyn said, her voice hardening. “This is no time to be playing the man. What you need is to have a good rest and a proper breakast. That’ll be more than enough time to--”

    “Where are my gloves?” I didn’t like the sheer panic that slipped into my voice. Seeing my hands, though, red raw and skin flaking, bare against the dirty sheets… My heart was beating so fast, I was surprised that she couldn’t hear it.

    “Your gloves? They’re over there by the dresser.”

    “I need them.” I forced my voice to calm. “Please.”

    She looked at me again, as if wondering what kind of strange things I was hiding in those gloves. She peered in each one before picking them up and bringing them over to me. When she went to hand them to me, I shook my head. I let her drop them on the bed before picking them up.

    Sithspit, what if she had taken my hand while I was out? I wondered as I put them on. I shuddered to think how people would have reacted if they had found me unconscious and her body dead and cold by my side.

    “You see?” she said, mistaking my shiver. “You’ve still got some kind of fever. Never mind the state of your hands. Now, you lie back and…”

    “No!” I growled. She jumped, her eyes widening. I forcibly softened my voice. I obviously wasn’t going to get out of this on my own merits. I allowed a hint of persuasion to seep into my words. “I need to leave. I got some bad news from home. I need to be back in Coruscant.”

    I felt like a fracking Sithspawn for using the Force against her, but if I didn’t get going to Coruscant soon the summons would start to have some… unfortunate side effects.

    As usual, it worked. Her eyes glazed over slightly as my Force suggestion infiltrated her mind, and she nodded along with my words. Once I was done, she let me sit up, and then helped me to stand. I waved off her offers for help dressing and asked her to have one of her boys fetch my R2 unit from the droid garage. I travel light, a couple of changes of clothes and little else, so even in my weakened state I was ready to go in a few minutes. I hurried, or rather hobbled, into the main room of the cantina just in time to see Wash, my R2 unit, trundle out.

    My powers of persuasion had started to wear off, and Mistress Joclyn gave me another of her frowns. The moment my creds appeared, though, she was all business, calculating time and food and water so that I left with my account a good fifty Imperial crowns lighter. And with no hope of improving my finances. I gritted my teeth. Tiss would owe me.

    Wash whistled at me as we left, making some kind of inquiry about how the mission had gone. I hushed him, waved a hand to Mistress Joclyn, and stepped out into the dusty roads of the port city.

    ***

    The suns were now fiery balls sketching brutal curves in the clear blue sky. The heat had increased, if that were possible, leaving me covered in sweat within moments. Wash rolled behind me, avoiding the larger potholes in the street’s surface. Even he seemed listless with the heat, though I knew that was probably just me projecting.

    The sounds of the city were overwhelming, a constant drone of speeder engines, ship’s taking off and merchants yelling. Most of the buildings we passed were only two or three stories high, tiny compared to the permacrete canyons of Coruscant. I passed the wreck of some ancient ship, Jawas gathered in its meagre shade. Off to one side, the Trade Tower rose above the city, casting its shadow over the docking bays.

    I turned left and led Wash towards the docking bay where I had left my ship. I found myself surrounded by a flow of people, Rodians and Jawas, Wookies and Gamorreans, as well as a smattering of humans and the occasional Twi’lek. Since the Release and the Wyrding of space by the Fael, the Seven Worlds had become havens to people of every race in the galaxy. No one could afford to reject another being, because no one knew when they might need to be accepted by someone else.

    A few minutes and we arrived at Docking Bay 94. A quick show of my papers and I was through the secure doors and into the bay.

    A handful of Jawa mechanics surrounded the antiquated X-wing I called a ship. They were pawing at the mismatched wings – one green, two yellow and a red – and clambering over the fuselage. I waved them off, Wash sparking a couple of them with one of his many add-ons, until they vanished back into the shadows.

    Climbing up into the cockpit, I grabbed my flight suit and helmet. Once they were on, I turned to Wash. I didn’t have time to call on one of the onsite mechanics, so I drew on what little Force strength I had to lift the droid and deposit him in the socket that was designed for him.

    He whistled nervously as he wobbled over the wings, but I managed to get him into place before I released him. By the time I was done, though, I was sweating from the effort. Sometimes it seemed like my Force powers had gotten weaker since I left Tiss behind.

    With Wash in place, I climbed back up the stepladder and into the cockpit. Settling in, I settled my helmet over my head.

    “How we doing back there, Wash?”

    The small droid weebled, a translation appearing on the readout before me.

    A-OK. READY FOR LAUNCH.

    Good, I thought. Quickly running through the preflight checklist, I engaged the repulsors, lifting the old fighter off the docking bay floor with a scream of unhappy parts and tired metal. The control yoke shook slightly beneath my hands, and then I engaged the main engines, pointing the nose up and out of the docking bay.

    Shooting up into the atmosphere, I glanced down and saw Mos Eisley shrink beneath me, soon lost amongst the yellows and greys of the sand dunes. Somewhere below, the Sand People were drawing closer to a screaming farmer. I suppressed a shiver and turned my attention forward.

    The X-wing left the atmosphere, the outside temperature dropping quickly below zero. Out in space, the changes that had been wrought on the galaxy by the Fael were suddenly all the more obvious.

    No stars.

    I guided my fighter away from the dual stars at the centre of the system and out towards the edge of the Wyrding. A roiling wall of black and purple nothingness, the Wyrding surrounded Tatooine in a terrifying vice that threatened at any moment to destroy it. Only the sacrifice of the hundred Jedi who had given their lives to create the barrier kept the Fael out.

    Once I was away from the gravity well created by the twin stars, I called up the hyperspace route that Wash had calculated for me. Ever since the Change, travelling through hyperspace had become even more complicated than it had been before, a constant risk that threatened to end in death… or worse.

    “You sure about your plotting?” I asked my droid. If you’re not this is going to be a hell of a short ride.

    The droid whistled angrily, and I shook my head. “Alright, buddy. Just asking.”

    With a slight hesitation, I engaged the hyperdrive. I only relaxed when the darkness before me swirled and ignited into the familiar light of hyperspace.

    ***

    The trip to Coruscant was already going to take four days. I had no time to waste considering the strength of the Force summons that Tiss had hit me with. So I could ill afford any distractions.

    Unfortunately, someone had decided otherwise.

    I had already been travelling for three days, eating ration packs and peeing in a recycle bag. Far from the most glamorous way of travelling. Still, the end was in sight and I was looking forward to arriving so Tiss could do something about the side effects of the summons – an itching behind my eyes that was about ready to drive me insane.

    Suddenly, I heard Wash squeal. Before I had time to ask him what was wrong, the hyperspace tunnel around me collapsed. One moment I was surrounded by blue revolving light, and the next I found myself stuck fast in a dark miasma that seemed to stretch to infinity.

    The Wyrding. I was stuck in the Wyrding.

    - This is really not good, Lucan’s voice whispered in my ear.

    “Dammit, Lucan,” I hissed. “Don’t do that.”

    - I’m sorry, I thought you might like my expert advice.

    - I just wish you would warn me before you sneak up on me like that, I responded, in my head this time.

    - Next time I’ll announce myself with drums and trumpets.

    - I don’t need your help.

    - Sure you don’t.

    This time, I heard him chuckle, and then he vanished into some dark part of my mind.

    Shaking my head, I turned my attention back to the sensor readings, trying to work out what had pulled me out of hyperspace so suddenly. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I soon found the problem. A small ship, markings unknown as far as the databanks were concerned, was slowly moving through the Wyrding towards me. Luckily, I didn’t need the databanks to know what the ship was. I could identify it all on my own.

    A Fael scout ship. It had pulled me out of hyperspace and now it was heading right for me.
    Admiral Volshe likes this.
  3. Ceillean Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 13, 2001
    star 5
    Oh great! You're back. :D Would you tag/PM me when you update please? [face_batting]
  4. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Hi @Ceillean! Yes, I decided to start reposting this in full since with the problems with the site, the older chapters were cut. It will take a few days to get back to where I was up to, but after that it will be new stuff. I'll keep you tagged! :)
  5. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Tagline - @Ceillean
    Chapter 3

    Currents through fluidic space buffeted the X-wing as I watched the Fael ship approach. Panic gripped me, and I might have stayed frozen if Wash’s insistent beeping hadn’t cut through the fog. The sound broke the spell and I blinked, twisting the yoke beneath my hands. The fighter lurched to the side, away from the oncoming vessel.

    What is wrong with me? I wondered, checking my instruments. Sensors were dead, as usual in the Wyrding. I checked things visually - the fluidic space around me rippled with the motions of my ship and the gravitic pulses emitted by the one behind me.

    I pushed as much power to the engines as possible, my eyes scanning the immediate area for any sign of a break in the Wyrding. I needed to find some kind of pocket of real space if I was to have any chance of jumping back into hyperspace. Of course I needed to find that before the Fael hunter caught up with me.

    Speaking of the Fael… A new alarm sounded in the cockpit. I checked the instruments, blinking furiously when I saw the indicator light for an incoming transmission. They were hailing me? What the hell?

    I hesitated for a moment, then punched the button to open the line. Static appeared on the small monitor down near my right hand. I flicked a glance back up at the purple and green nothingness surrounding me, and when I looked back down the static had cleared to show two alien faces. Red mottled skin clashed with yellow eyes that burned in the dimness of the ship. Sharp orange teeth showed through cracked lips as they smiled at me.

    “Hello, brother.”

    Sithspit! I yanked the yoke around again, heading off at a tangent from my previous course, shunting as much power as I could to the engines.

    “Brother,” the Fael – her specific species was known as moirae or Reaper – drew the word out turning it into a moan.

    “Don’t call me that,” I shouted over the comm, blinking sweat out of my eyes.

    On the monitor, the two moirae shared a knowing glance – like older siblings humouring a younger brother so as to better bring him around to their way of thinking. I felt my hackles rise. The look lasted a moment, then they turned and looked back into the monitor.

    “What else should we call you, Brother?”

    “Perhaps he doesn’t remember us.”

    “It has been a long time.”

    “Perhaps he needs to be reminded.”

    Before I could respond, the space around me flexed. I have no better way to describe what happened – the fluid tightened around my X-wing like a vice, or a fist. Immediately, the ship shook. The engines howled as they continued to try and push the fighter forward against the sudden pressure. I swore loudly in Huttese as I cut the engines – if I didn’t, the engines would probably explode.

    I was adrift.

    Scowling, I looked back down at the two Fael. I remembered them only too well. Aisa and Decima, the King of Crow’s two pet reapers. I especially remembered how much that habit of sharing a sentence each used to drive me to distraction.

    “What… What do you want with me? What are you doing here?”

    Aisa, the one who had spoken first, sighed. “A Conclave has been called.”

    “The King demands it.”

    “Blood has been spilled.”

    “And must be avenged.”

    I frowned. A Conclave? I wracked my mind, casting back to the little time I had spent amongst the Fael. A Conclave was…

    “A… An assembly of fae?”

    The two looked at one another again, then turned back to me. “Assembly is an… adequate term.”

    “We must gather to avenge the spilled blood.”

    “I got that. Why here?” They were only a day away from Coruscant. The Fael generally kept quite a distance from the Seven Systems. Besides, from what I had learned in my time amongst them, most blood cases were tried in their court on Korriban. Of course I had only witnessed one such case, and had been too busy pleading for my life at the time to note the details. “Why is the blood not being avenged in the Court?”

    “The culprit fled.”

    “To the Jeweled World.”

    “He must be found.”

    “He will be tracked.”

    “And judged.”

    The back and forth left me disorientated, so it took me a moment to make sense of what they had said. Why would a Fael flee to Coruscant? I opened my mouth to ask the question when the truth hit me. I almost choked.

    “The culprit is mortal?”

    Aisa bowed her head on the monitor. “He is of the Wilting Kind.”

    I was too shocked to react to the derogatory term. The implications were staggering. A mortal who had been left alive long enough to land on Korriban was amazing enough. A mortal who had been able to get close enough to one of the Fael to kill it was even more so. A mortal who had not only gotten away with murder, but had been able to flee the King’s wrath and get all the way back to Coruscant was a miracle.

    “He is an echo of a whisper,” Decima added, closing her eyes and smiling.

    “We gather the whispers.”

    “You gather the whispers.”

    “You must come with us to the Conclave.”

    Like a cold bucket of water after a night of drinking, the words brought me crashing back to earth. Or ship. How the hell had this conversation gotten so far off track? I looked down at the monitor and, as I had feared, both reapers were looking at me. Expectantly. I shook my head.

    “I can’t come with you. I told you back then. I won’t.”

    “The whispers. They must be gathered.” The passion, the pain in her voice brought me up short.

    “They must be returned.”

    I felt my curiosity peek despite my own best efforts. “Returned? Where?”

    Aisa opened her mouth to reply, but before she could a haunting sound echoed suddenly through both ships. I could hear it resonate through the titanium alloy hull, as well as across the comm. line. The sound created ripples through the fluidic space that surrounded me, a deep lowing like a hunting horn. I could feel the sound in my bones, down into my very blood, stirring something I tried to keep dormant in my core. I had heard the sound before, a hundred times. A thousand. Echoing in the darkness between dying stars.

    The call of the Fael. The call of the Hunt.

    Both reapers turned away from the monitor, faces raised as if soaking up the rays of an invisible sun. The tone rose higher for a moment, then dropped off, fading away. They stayed that way, eyes closed and smiles on their faces, for a few moments more and then they dropped their heads.

    “The Hunt.”

    “Whispers.”

    Though a part of me felt a sickness in my stomach – after all the sound meant that some damned fool’s ship had been caught and dragged into the Wyrding – I saw an opportunity here.

    “You should go.”

    Aisa looked at me again. This time, though, she did not smile. Urgency soaked her words. “As long as you keep the whispers, you will be in danger.”

    “They must be returned.”

    Both of them opened their arms wide, as if to embrace me across the cold gulf between us. “Come with us, Brother.”

    “Join the Hunt.”

    If I could have, I would have stepped back. As it was, I shook my head firmly. “I… No. Not now. I can’t.”

    They had made the same offer many times when I lived among them, begging me to join with them, to be taught by them. I couldn’t blame them – the hands I kept hidden beneath my flight suit gloves had once belonged to their third sister, Nona.

    Both of them allowed their arms to fall back down. They shared that familiar smile again, tinged with a little sadness. They looked back at me, as static began to erase their image once again.

    “One day, Brother.”

    “One day.”

    As their image faded, I had a sudden thought. “Wait! How do I get out of here?”

    “We will form a bubble for you.”

    “You will be able to depart.”

    Their forms vanished from the monitor. I felt the yoke rattle beneath my fingers and realised they had freed me. Back in control, I turned the X-wing towards them just in time to see their own ship fade into misty lines that wavered for a few moments before vanishing completely. I sat there for a moment, my eyes fixed on the spot where their ship had been. What had they meant about my being in danger? What could the whispers – the souls I had reaped – do to me?

    I shook my head, banishing the thoughts. Already a bubble of real space was opening around me, darkness seeping in and pushing back the Wyrding. My systems came back on line, indicating that I was at the centre of an expanding sensorial universe. While I waited for the opening to grow large enough, I rechecked my calculations for hyperspace. Once I was sure it was safe, I glanced at the Wyrding surrounding me one last time, and engaged the hyperdrive.

    It was time to go home.
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  6. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Tagline - @Ceillean

    Chapter 4

    After the Great Change and the quarantine of the Seven, Hespiridium – the former pleasure moon – had become Coruscant’s main link back to the rest of the galaxy. Resorts, palaces and casinos had been converted into living quarters while entire swathes of beaches, jungles and game-reserves were transformed into farms, grazing fields and food manufacturing plants. Most of those who lived there had been touched by the fael in some way, twisted by their power into something less than what they had been. Barred from Coruscant, they had done the best they could, turning Hespiridium into a ghetto.

    I landed in one of the many docking bays on the outskirts of Grey City, Hespiridium’s primary port. Leaving Wash to keep an eye on the X-wing, I stepped out into the streets. I needed to arrange passage through the planetary shield before I could reply to my mistress’s summons.

    Coruscant was just setting as I entered the outskirts of the city. A few glowlamps flickered from the tops of the larger buildings, carving the streets into shadows of black and grey.

    The buildings themselves were twisted, the technology that had been used to raise them moulded by the ambiant radiation leaking out of the Wyrding. The skeletal towers had an almost bewitching weirdness about them, like the arms of the damned beseeching the heavens for forgiveness. The concrite had taken on the colour of coursing blood, red and brilliant and terrible.

    The Force. I could feel it, pulsing through the slabs of concrite at my feet. Breathing in the walls of the buildings. As if they themselves had been brought to life, twisting themselves into whatever shapes they wished. Twisting those who lived inside them as well.

    Danil!

    Lucan’s voice shook me from reverie. I set off again, down the street and heading towards the city centre.

    The buildings changed around me the closer I got to the city’s protective shield, the special harmonics keeping the Wyrding’s effects at bay. Grey City Core bustled with people; merchants and pilots, farmers and traders, travellers and players. After days stuck in my cockpit, the noise unsettled me. Hands and paws and suckers reached out to grab me; I slapped them away, trying to keep a tight hold on my wallet and cred-card. I felt as if I was walking through a crowd of pigeons, cooing for bread.

    Even though I was theoretically after local night fall, I knew I had to get to Coruscant as quickly as possible. I headed for the first hacker-broker I saw, only to be told that a Wyrding storm had been sighted on the far side of the system and there would be no openings in either shield until morning. Three more told me the same thing, even when I flashed my cred-card. By the tenth, I was beginning to get the message. I wasn’t going to be able to answer the summons, not tonight. I could feel it eating away at me, now like an itch I couldn’t reach. Still, there was nothing for it. Sighing, I headed for the Three-Eyed Rodian.

    As I steered my way through the pawing hordes, I looked for the familiar sign. I picked it out almost immediately – a garish, luminiscent image of a prancing Rodian, green skin rendered in glowsticks that flickered on and off. In the centre of its face were three red eyes. Grey City humour, Lampwin had told me. I didn’t get the joke myself.

    I pushed through into the bar/hotel, pausing as I blinked in the dim lighting. The smell of too many races packed into too small a space, burning fuses and spent alcohol clung to the metal walls. A group of beings – mainly human but with a couple of Twi’leks, a Gamorrean, a Wookie and a couple of Jawas – were gathered around a heating unit, talking and laughing louldy.

    Lampwin came bustling up, wiping his hands on a dusty cloth. He wore a scar tied securely around his forehead to hide the third eye he had developed while scouting the edge of a Wyrding as a boy.

    “Danil! Welcome back. It’s been a long time.”

    “Thanks.”

    He sensed the tone and frowned. “Trouble?”

    “No more than usual. I just got back from Tatooine.”

    “What were you doing on that sand pit?” Lampwin, like most Hesperidium residents, had little time for anyone not born more than a couple of parsecs from Galactic Central.

    “A job,” I replied. “I was hoping to reach Coruscant tonight, but there’s a Wyrding storm coming and everyone’s batting down the hatches. I thought you might have a room.”

    He opened his mouth to answer when a rolling wave of laughter drew my attention back to the group over by the fire. This time I picked out the elaborate jackets, slicked back hair and fur, vibroblades and blasters. Players.

    “Whose Men?” I asked. Ever since the quarantine of the Seven, the entertainment industry had become even more cut-throat than before. When the prize of gaining a patron amongst the rich and powerful was a berth within the protective shield of one of the safe worlds, becoming an actor or musician seemed even more attractive than before the Change.

    “Senator Palkranin. As was.”

    “Was?”

    “Dead. Afellen flu.”

    That sparked my interest. From my time working for Tess, I knew that the Senator was a renowned Vianist, a followed of Via and the Beatifi Countenance. An avowed apostate and a fool. I had no more time for the Vianists than I did for the Brotherhood of Cognizance or the Je’daii faith of our current Empress.

    “Just returned from a tour of the outlying habitation spheres and wheelworlds.”

    I hadn’t heard much about Senator Palkranin’s Men, beyond the praise offered their illusionist, so renowned that some claimed he had been trained in the Jedi arts. Even the Empress had been known to frequent the Glory where they played.

    I started to turn back to Lampwin to ask about the room again when I noticed two men, sitting just outside the circle of the group, with them but apart. One of them wore a grey cloak that obscured his face but the other, long steel hair tumbling down his back, was very familiar. I smiled.

    “You know them?”

    I nodded. “Not them. The older one. An old friend.”

    I asked Lampwin for a mug of his foulest synthale, then wandered over towards the heater. The older man looked up as I approached, his angry expression fading to a look of shock when he recognised me.

    “Danil, you son of a bitch! Is that you?”

    “Hello, Kit.”

    Kit Luclowe stood up in one swoop, grabbing me in a bear hug. “Force, it’s good to see you. How long has it been?”

    I stepped away out of his embrace, keeping my hands on his shoulders. “Five years? Six? Ever since you left the Guild.”

    “Has it been that long? Force. You look well.”

    “Liar. I look like **** and I feel worse.”

    He laughed. “It is good to see you. Here, come on have a seat.”

    The other Men had turned to watch our reunion, but now they turned back to their drinks. As Kit and I sat down at his table, the other man stood. I put a hand out to shake his, but he turned away. I caught a glimpse of blue eyes reflecting the firelight, then the cloak’s hood fell back.

    “I’ll be upstairs,” he said to Kit, his voice a ragged growl.

    Kit opened his mouth as if to protest, then obviously thought better of it. Wincing slightly, he nodded. “Alright.”

    Before I could say anything, the man hurried away between the tables. I watched him vanish through the door that led to the hotel, then turned to Kit, raising an eyebrow.

    Smiling ruefully, Kit sat down. “Another acquaintance,” he said, “hoping I could give him a job.”

    “And?”

    “Unfortunately, I don’t have an opening.”

    I sat down, turning slightly to catch Lampwin’s eye. He nodded to me, then handed a glass brimming over with synthale to one of his maids, a buxom young thing with hair as red as a dying sun. She hurried over with my drink and I ordered another for Kit and a second for me. The alcohol might just help fend off the summoning fever for a time.

    “So, what brings you to Hesperidium?”

    “On my way home. I just finished a job on Tatooine.”

    “Guild?”

    I nodded. “No choice. Need the money to renew my licence.” I took a swig of the ale, enjoying the thick, burned taste as it rolled down my throat.

    “They’re still running the licence system?”

    “Gielding loves it.”

    Kit snorted. “And how is the Imperial Justice?”

    “I wouldn’t know, he keeps away from me as much as possible. Doesn’t trust my connections to Tess.”

    “He can’t enjoy having a man on his books who consorts with a known criminal.”

    “Especially one that he put in the Tower,” I agreed.

    We sat in silence for a moment, both thinking of Gielding and the Guild. Kit Luclowe had been one of the greatest thieftakers of his generation, a man with a keen sense of the criminal mind, willing to cross the line between the two when he needed to. He had taken me under his wing when I first joined the Guild, back before it had been incorporated into the new Ministry of Justice under Gielding. Luclowe had walked away when Gielding had taken over. I had stayed behind. No choice. It had been thieftaker or prison.

    “So what are you doing here?” I didn’t add with them.

    “I’ve been working as their fixer for the past two years.”

    “Fixer?” I had heard of them, hired men responsible for anything from booking berths in hotels and theatres to getting rid of bodies and evidence when a duel got out of hand.

    “Care for them better than their own mothers,” Kit said, as if reading my mind. “It’s a far cry from hunting murderers in the Dregs, but it’s work. Good work. Safe. And it pays bloody well. You should try it.”

    “I could certainly use the money.”

    He looked at me with a frown. I sighed and told him about the seizure and my hurried departure from Tatooine, glossing over my little adventure in the Wyrding. He listened, then went quiet for a few moments, his eyes staring past my shoulder. I was about to turn and see if he was actually looking at somebody when he blinked and nodded.

    “I may be able to help you.”

    “Oh really?”

    “Well, more like we could help one another.”

    I nodded for him to go on.

    “We’ve been having some trouble in the past few weeks. Accidents during rehearsals, clothes, props and script pads going missing, a higher number of injuries than usual. We’ve even had one of our actors vanish. I would brush it off as the risks of business except…”

    He bent down, rummaging around in the sack at his side. He pulled out a sheaf of flimsys, glancing behind at the Men. They were all too involved in getting stinking drunk to take any notice of what we were doing. Still, Kit was very careful as he pushed the papers over to me.

    Following his lead, I unfolded them carefully, peering at the first one. Written in a shaky hand on a piece of flimsy, in blood red ink, were the words:

    Do not investigate the boy’s disappearance. The Ghost is watching.

    “They’re all like that,” Kit said as I began to leaf through the papers. “Cryptic warnings, all involving this Ghost. I think someone has it in for us.”

    “Who?”

    Kit shrugged. “A rival troop? A jealous lover? Someone who has it in for the Senator?”

    “Do you think his death is linked to it in some way?”

    “Who knows? I just… I’ve tried to look into it all, quietly, but I’m too well known. Too closely connected. I know I’m not going to get anywhere.”

    “So you want me to do some quiet digging?”

    Kit nodded. “I’ll pay you of course. Maybe not the whole amount you need for your licence, but at least it will set you on the way.”

    I pretended to think about it, but although I didn’t like working for a friend, I also knew that I had no other choice. If I didn’t get my licence renewed before the end of the year, they would revoke my pass. Without my pass I would be stuck outside the safety of Coruscant’s shield, much too close to the Wyrding for my taste. I shuddered.

    “Looks like you’ve got yourself a deal,” I said, forcing a smile and reaching out a hand.

    “Excellent,” Kit said, pumping my hand. “Come on, let’s drink on it.”

    As he called Lampwin over, I decided then and there that I was going to get completely and utterly stonking drunk.

    ***

    I woke up in darkness.

    My head ached, pounding. How much had we had to drink? Whatever they put in the ale in this place, it was bloody powerful. Force, we must have drunk the tap room dry! These days I lived on ale and other, more powerful drugs, anything to keep the voices in the back of my head quiet. And yet this felt like my first hang-over. I could barely even remember stumbling up the stairs. Had Kit got me into bed?

    Groaning, I rolled over onto my back, stretching my arms out to either side. My left hand fell on a wet patch.

    I pulled my hand away, groaning. Had I been sick in bed again? It wouldn’t be the first time. As I moved my hand, though, I brushed against something cold, wet and clammy.

    My heart skipped a beat. Scrambling away, I reached out with my other hand for the glowstick on the bedside table. Cracking it and lifting my hand, I cast flickering shadows on the bed.

    My line of work had brought me to a hundred scenes just like the one before me. In the midst of the tangled sheets, stained crimson red by all the blood, lay an old man. His sightless eyes gazed at me, still full of terror. His body had been hacked and lacerated – he looked drained of blood. His skin was white, so white…

    His skin. His cooling skin against my bare hand. I looked down. The blood barely showed up against the angry red of my Fael hand. I must have taken my gloves off before I got into bed. I had touched him.

    I looked back up, terrified of what I would see. As I feared, his jaw fell open and a soft yellow light pearled on his lips. I scrambled away, but it was too late. The process had begun. Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to steal this man’s soul.
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  7. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Tagline - @Ceillean

    Chapter Five

    Reaping a man’s soul is not a pleasant experience. Still, by now you would think I would be used to it.

    I have already described the pearly yellow liquid on the man’s lips – those droplets turn into a gaseous mass, escaping from the dead body like something drifting out of an electrical plant down in the Warehouse District. Once the reaping process has begun, that mass will find its way to me, no matter where I go, how far away I hide. Trust me, I have tried. One woman’s soul once followed me around for three days.

    This time, I gave in to the process with little more than a sigh. I backed up against the wall, closed my eyes and opened my mouth. The old man’s soul parted my lips and began to seep down my throat. I gagged as more and more of the soul matter forced its way into my mouth, like oily smoke, rolling down my throat and into my stomach.

    Every soul has a particular taste. Murdered souls taste like rancid milk, burned earth and a hint of copper. The old man’s added a sprinkling of old bark, a thread of mothballs and a whiff of piss to the mix. And the unmistakeable silvery tang of magic.

    As this soul entered my body, I began to see glimpses of the dead man’s life. They were flashes, pictures without words, smells without substance, sounds without context.

    I heard applause, followed by the sight of a woman’s smiling face and then the thick smell of spilled blood. I saw a dragon hidden amongst trees. Heard a woman’s scream. Felt the release of an orgasm. The sensations began to come faster and more intensely. The cry of a baby. The sweaty breasts of a fat Rodian whore. A woman’s scream.

    The stink of ****. A planet’s surface rising up through the cockpit of a small ship. My hand shaking as I crumpled a piece of paper. A full moon over a vast jungle. A woman’s scream.

    A stone doorway filled with mist. A young woman’s face, tears running down her cheeks. A woman’s scream.

    The metallic sheen of a theatre stage. The Force pulsing through my veins. A woman’s scream.

    My fist breaking nose and cheek bones. A woman’s scream.

    Again and again and again, fragments of this man’s life flickered through my mind’s eye.

    As usual, the experience left me breathless and drained. Every muscle ached as if I had been fighting in a bear pit. And it wasn’t over. As the fragments drifted away, I tensed for the grand finale. The soul settled and then the screams began.

    Let me out! I’m still alive, you hear me? Let me… Wait! Where am I? What’s happening? Where am I? I have to get out. Have to find her. Have to get out. Where am I? What is happening to me where am I have to get out where am I where is she she needs me I have to help her I have to make it right I have to get him the spell I have to get it back curse him curse her curse them all where am I what is happening!

    From experience, I knew that few dead souls come out of a reaping with their sanity intact. Whoever this man had once been, his soul was teetering on the brink of the abyss.

    Listen to me! I shouted in my mind

    The man’s soul ignored me. I shouted again, but the shrieks and screams and demented cries steadily increased until it was all I could do to keep from screaming myself. Sithspawn, I hated this part. The headache I had been nursing since the Force summoning started to build in intensity. Closing my eyes, I did the only thing I could.

    Lucan, I need your help.

    As quickly as that, he was there. His soul was all dry amusement, accompanied by the mental image of an old fop with his eyebrow raised.

    You yelped?

    Yes.

    I assume it has something to do with our latest… lodger?

    I gritted my teeth. My new ‘lodger’ had begun to scream shrilly. I started to rub my temples.

    Yes. Can you do anything with him?

    I had discovered Lucan’s effect on my ‘lodgers’ the day I reaped the soul of an old Twi’lek whore deep in the Dregs. She kept me awake all night with her exploits, which – if true – would have been enough to make her a legend. I think Lucan eventually silenced her out of self preservation – if she had carried on I think I might have thrown myself off a skyhook.

    What is his name? Lucan asked now.

    I’m… working on that.

    Lucan grumbled something under his breath. Or would have if he had any breath. I get lost sometimes in all of this; having another man living in your head, sharing your mind, is as unnatural as you can get.

    I’ll see what I can do, he muttered.

    For the next five minutes, I listened as Lucan tried cadgoling, tempting and teasing, gentle sarcasm and harsh words, whispering, whistling and finally shouting to convince the newcomer to stop screaming. All for nought. In the end, I felt him grab at the little ball of energy that hovered just behind my forehead and then tug the old man back into the darkness somewhere. It always ended that way – Lucan would attempt diplomacy and resort to force. I was damned happy to have the screaming out of my head. I could still hear the old man, but distantly, as if through a thick pane of glass. I breathed a sigh of relief.

    I would have to remember to thank Lucan later.

    For now, though, my main priority was to get out of this damned room. If someone found me here with the body, I doubted even Tess could get me out of trouble. I walked round the body, avoiding the blood that splattered the floor and went to the door. My hand was just about to press the activation plate when someone buzzed from outside.

    I jerked my hand away as if I had been burned, then froze, hardly even daring to breath.

    The knocking came again. Sithspawn! Why now? I hesitated, wondering whether to just ignore it. When the buzzing came again, more insistent this time, I realised that I would have to answer or risk whoever it was waking the whole inn.

    Taking a deep breath, I pulled the door ajar and peered out. One of Lampwin’s maids – the same one who had served me the drink downstairs – stood there, red hair tumbling over her plunging neckline, her hands twisting her apron into a ball as she bit at her bottom lip.

    "What?" I snarled.

    The girl simpered and shrunk away. She dropped her eyes to the floor. "I... I need to check your room, milord." She curtsied.

    "I'm sleeping. Go away."

    I went to close the door, but her hand darted out and stopped me, palm slapping against the wood. I looked at it, then at her, in surprise. I caught a glimpse of something hidden in the back of her eyes, then she smiled, revealing two dark gaps between her yellowing teeth.

    "Please sir,” she whined. “It’s just we've had a vanishing and Master Lampwin will have my ear if I don't do what I'm told."

    A vanishing? Dammit. It couldn’t be a coincidence – someone knew about the dead man. I needed to find some way of stalling the search until I could get out. Putting on my sternest expression, I snarled. “I don’t care about Master Lampwin. You tell him I’m sleeping.”

    She shook her head. “Oh no, sir, he won’t allow that. Mister Oksgrav is one of his good friends and he wants us to check every room until we find him. I have to look in your room.” She started to push, her arm surprisingly strong as she tried to force me back and get the door open.

    Oksgrav. At least I had a name to go with the scream. Still, this little snippet was getting on my wick. Since I obviously wasn’t going to get rid of her, I did the only thing I could. Wrenching the door open with one hand, throwing her off balance, I reached forward with my other hand and grabbed her by the shoulder, dragging her inside.

    Once she was in, I spun her around and pulled her back against me, one arm wrapping around her waist while my free hand clutched at her mouth. I felt her take a breath to scream and tightened my grip.

    When her eyes fell on the old man's body, a soft sob escaped her lips.

    "I'm not going to hurt you, you hear me?” I whispered in her ear. “This isn't what it looks like. If you promise not to scream, I'll let you go."

    I felt her head bob against my chest as she nodded. I was taking a huge risk, but I knew that I couldn’t carry her out of the bar and make my escape, not without bringing half of Grey City down on me. Slowly, my whole body tense in case she decided to test my resolve, I pulled my hand away from her mouth.

    She didn't scream. Instead, a low moan escaped her lips and her body went limp. I thought she had fainted, but as I gently allowed her to drop, she fell to her knees. Her hands fell into her lap and she started to play with her apron again. When I heard what she was murmuring, I rolled my eyes. She was praying to the Je’daii for protection.

    I left her where she was and went to the door, peering out into the corridor to make sure no one had been attracted by the noise. To my relief, it was empty. Closing the door as softly as I could, I turned back to find the girl on her feet. There was no sign of tears in her eyes. Instead, she held a tiny palm-sized blaster in her hand, pointed at my head.

    I have to admit, my reactions weren’t what they used to be. I was so surprised that I froze, frowning. "What do you think you’re-"

    "Shut up." Gone were the simpering tones of the maid, replaced by something altogether colder and harder and brimming over with anger.

    I did as I was told, snapping my mouth closed. I followed her with my eyes as she stepped back, her own eyes never leaving mine until she reached the bed. Her hand reached out blindly and she fumbled at the man's neck. When she found the place where his pulse should have been, she pressed her fingers against the cooling skin. After a moment, she cursed again.

    “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” she demanded as she took a step towards me, fingertip hovering above the blaster’s firing stub.

    "How much is he paying you, you bastard?"

    I shook my head, lifting my hands. "Listen lady, I don't know what you're..."

    "Don’t lie to me! I know the Ghost sent you!” She scowled. “Kark, you've ruined everything! Six months of work, gone. Do you have any idea how long it has taken me to get any kind of a lead on your boss? Not that you care."

    She took a deep breath, glaring at me. "I’ll just have to make the best out of it, I guess. I’d been hoping to trap the Ghost himself, but you’ll have to do instead.” She smiled, looking like a cat who has a mouse trapped between her paws. “I'm sure a few days in the Tower will loosen your tongue."

    The Tower! This was getting out of hand. I needed to do something and fast. I glanced at her blaster again, then took a step towards her. Her finger tightened on the stub.

    "Stop right there."

    Slowly, carefully, never taking my eyes off her finger, I raised my hands higher and moved one step closer. "Listen, we don’t have to do it this way. I’ll tell you everything I know." Another step.

    "I said, don't move."

    I ignored her, my eyes still fixed on her finger, stepping a little closer. Only a few steps remained. I was taking a hell of a risk, but I had no other choice. Keep her distracted. I forced myself to keep on talking, not really paying any attention to what I was saying. “Please, this isn’t what it looks like. If you’ll just listen…”

    Her finger twitched a moment before she pressed the stub. It wasn’t much of a warning, but it was just about enough. I acted on instinct, leaping towards her instead of away as she had obviously expected. Her aim was high, but I felt the explosive force of charged energy graze my forehead with a flash of red fire before I was on her.

    Gravity did the rest. We tumbled to the floor. Acting more from instinct that anything else, I clocked her, my fist catching her on the cheek. There was no strength behind it and the blow did little more than stun her. I didn't waste any time checking exactly how dazed she was, though - scrambling to my feet, I darted for the door.

    The corridor was quiet and empty. I wondered vaguely why – if Lampwin had ordered a search for Oksgrav, there should have been more people about. Still, I wasn’t one to refuse small mercies. As fast as I could, I ran to the stairs, heading down to the common area.

    Down in the bar, the heater had died out, leaving the room draped in icy fingers. I darted right, slapping my palm to the door panel between the bar and the kitchen. Motors whirred as the door slid open and I stumbled inside. My breath came in heaving gasps as I reached the door out into the alley outside

    It was locked, and much heavier than the one between the kitchen and bar. I had as much chance of breaking it down as I did of space-swimming all the way back to Coruscant from here. My eyes scanned the nearby tables, looking for something that I could use to rewire the lock. A metal fork hung from a hook on the wall, so I snapped off one of the tines, my ears pricked for any sign of movement from upstairs. If that red-haired bitch called for help, I would be done for. Nothing but silence. So far.

    Hurry it up, Danil.

    I dropped to my haunches, ignoring Lucan’s reminder and used the pick to pry off the control panel. I could hardly see anything, the only illumination the flickering lights of holoverts filtering through the high window. I took a deep breath, held it, the only sound the hammering of my heart. I pressed my ear against the wall, listening as I fiddled with wires. A spark burned my fingers, but nothing happened. Biting back a curse, I grabbed a different wire, prising the plastic off and twining the two together. This time, I heard a beeping sound and a louder clack. Letting my breath out in an explosion of air, I pressed my hand to the door and slid it open.

    A figure stood on the other side, legs spread, one hand on the hilt of a dagger while the other held a much larger blaster pointed at my forehead. This was no palm blaster, it was a proper carabine, probably military issue. I stalled, just staring at him.

    “Evening.”

    The man had a harsh accent when he spoke. As he stepped into the light, I saw that his skin was the colour of fresh blood, his face covered in small tentacles. Weather skin covered in tattoos spoke to his age, while the sharp teeth revealed by his lazy grin bespoke a predator. His yellow eyes glowed golden in the planetlight.

    I didn’t answer his greeting. The Sith waved the blaster, indicating that I should step away from the door and place my back against the wall. I did as I was told. From behind me, I heard hurried footsteps and a moment later the red-haired bitch came barrelling out into the cool night air. When she saw me, held at gunpoint by the tattooed man, she stopped.

    “You bastard,” she rasped. I tried not to smile at the bruise growing on her cheek.

    “You lost him,” the Sith said.

    “He took me by surprise,” the red-haired bitch replied, scowling at him.

    He didn’t say anything, but the slightly raised eyebrow stalk said enough. The red-haired bitch growled under her breath, then turned to me.

    “That was a stupid thing you just did.”

    I shrugged. “Not if I’d gotten away with it.”

    She stepped closer. “But you didn’t, did you?” She looked up at me and smiled. “And I promise you, you’re going to regret it.”

    I sensed the Sith stepping up behind me a moment before the butt of his blaster came crashing down on the back of my head. I just had time to see the red-haired bitch smile before I blacked out.
    Admiral Volshe likes this.
  8. Ceillean Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 13, 2001
    star 5
    I'm all caught up. Finally. :D And this story is still utterly fascinating.
    I've said it before but your writing is great. I can dive into the story and it's like I'm right there.
    I like Lucan, by the way. He reminds of a character from the Xbox game "Darksiders"...whose name I've forgotten, of course. :p
    Anyway, awesome story and I'm really looking forward to more. :)

    =D=
  9. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    @Ceillean - Thanks for the comment! Means a lot! Compared to my Glimmer of Hope story this one doesn't get very many reads or comments. So even a single comment makes a big difference!

    I'm so glad that you enjoy the story and my writing, and Lucan - he is one of my favourites as well! I should have a new chapter up on Thursday, I'll let you know.

    Thanks again!
  10. aalagartassle SWC Senate Chief of State

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    Member Since:
    Jan 11, 2011
    star 4
    Ahh the return I've been waiting for. Excellent writing, I apologise for the tardiness. Your story has fantatsic scope though I am bias, i hate mush so this is soo much cooler. =D=
  11. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    @aalagartassle - Thanks so much! Means a lot. Would you like me to pm or tag you when I update?
  12. aalagartassle SWC Senate Chief of State

    VIP
    Member Since:
    Jan 11, 2011
    star 4
  13. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Tagline - @Ceillean, @aalagartassle

    Chapter Six

    The first thing I heard was the steady throb of sublight engines somewhere beneath me accompanied by the occasional scrape of metal against metal.

    I opened my eyes. In the dim light cast by a control panel in front of me, I saw the curved bulkhead of a ship’s cockpit rising above me. I frowned, trying to remember how the hell I had gotten her. Just as I recognised the back of a red-haired woman in the seat in front of me, my memory returned. The fake maid in the inn and blaster butt to the back of my head. I grunted. They had brought me aboard their ship.

    Perfect.

    The red-haired bitch must have heard me move slightly. She turned, eyes fixed on my face, a larger blaster cradled in her arms and aimed squarely at my crotch. A wave of nausea overwhelmed me and I twisted around, vomiting all over the floor behind me. I watched as a small maintenance droid darted out of a nearby hatch, vacuuming up the rest of my supper. My whole body was shaking. Dammit all to the nine hells of Cardus! The summoning spell was starting to have more of an effect. With a groan, I swung back into the chair.

    “Feel better?”

    "Not really,” I croaked. The inside of my throat felt as if someone had rubbed it with a handful of sand.

    "Good,” the woman snapped.

    I smiled wanly. What wit. "Where are we?”

    "Waiting for contact from the planet."

    I managed to lift my head again, without throwing up this time, and turned it slightly to look out of the cockpit’s viewport. My captor’s ship was floating in the hollow between two conjoined hulks, the remnants of old Galactic Alliance frigates. A handful of other small ships – tugboats, freight-barges and pinnaces – held position around us.

    Great, I thought at the sight. They’re taking me down to Coruscant. Unfortunately, from what my captor had said, I got the feeling that I would be heading towards incarceration rather than a meeting with Tess. Fantastic.

    I looked back at the woman. She scowled at me. For the first time I noticed the huge Sith who had clocked me, his hands resting on the controls as he held us stationary. Despite an impending sense of doom, I forced a smile just to piss her off.

    "You do realise you're making a huge mistake?"

    "Please!” She rolled her eyes. “Don't bore me with your threats. The Ghost's men have been trying to scare me off for months." She leaned in towards me and suddenly a knife appeared in her hand. "I don't scare easy."

    I glanced down at the knife, which she just happened to be holding right in front of her ample breasts, placed on beautiful display by her plunging neck line. My smile widened. "I can see that."

    She saw where I was looking and gritted her teeth. She lifted her hand to slap me, but before she followed through, a voice sounded from the control panel behind her.

    "Shield control to DeVare’s Dagger."

    The Sith reached forward and flicked a switch.

    DeVare’s Dagger, here.”

    “Please state your name and business,” the controller said, his tone of voice bordering on the depressive.

    “Runner’s business, control. Our passcode checks out so don’t waste my time.”

    A Runner? I glanced at the woman - I assumed she was DeVare - again, feeling a new respect for her. I had heard of the Runners – the Minister of Justice’s latest pet project. Former thieftakers for the most part, they had received special training and judicial powers, able to investigate any crime and bring anyone in for questioning. Even a Senator or a Moff. If this DeVare was a Runner, I was in more trouble that I had thought.

    There was a moment of silence, followed by the controller’s voice, a little more perky this time.

    "What kind of business, DeVare’s Dagger?"

    "The kind that ends in the Tower, control."

    That seemed to give the man pause. After another moment of silence, the voice echoed through the bridge again. “Your passcode checks out, Dagger. Here’s your entry code.”

    Rolling his eyes, the Sith ended the communication and brought the sublight engines back to quarter power. The Dagger slid forward, moving through the gap between the two frigates and out of the Dregs. A shimmer of light appeared in front of us, a hole in the shield just big enough for the ship to slip through. With an extra impetus from the engines, the Sith took us through and down towards the city world below.

    ***

    A century before, DeVare and her Sith companion could have taken me from Hesperidium to Coruscant in a few minutes, with hardly any special authorisation to get through the shields. That was before the Empress and her pet Jedi, Marjo Demor, instated the quarantine.

    Now the only way in lay through the Outer Ring, also known as the Dregs, a hodge-podge of ancient habitation spheres and mirror-shields, wheelworlds and defence stations, gutted starships and starfighters. All of them held in place by gravity generators, lying just above Coruscant’s shield line, and forming a perfect sphere to protect the planet. Roping it all together through vacuum tunnels and gravity sucks, they had created a constantly shifting orbiting shanty town. The Dregs had their roots in cargo holds and docking bays and their branches in the zerograv tubes that stretched between bridges and weapon’s towers.

    Once through the Shield, for those few lucky enough to have the correct codes or passes, lay the upper layer of Coruscant. Skyscrapers dwarfed all natural features, broken into levels, megablocks, blocks and subblocks. Within those skyscrapers lay the Senate Building, the Temple of Je’daii, the former Republic Executive Building, the Imperial Palace and the Tower.

    Below that was the undercity, Freetown. A city of contrasts, where theatres rubbed shoulders with churches, market places with whorehouses, taverns with cemeteries. Sunlight never reached those streets, lit only by artificial lighting and the flickering dance of advertisement holograms. Home to the Twilighters and people like me who couldn’t afford the astronomical prices in the upper levels.

    Coruscant. The Planet of Three Crowns. My home for the past thirteen years, the place I had returned to a thousand times.

    Never as a prisoner, though.

    ***

    As I had expected, the journey to the Tower lasted less than half an hour. By the time it rose out of the perpetual gloom, I was switching between hot and cold every few moments and my shivers were becoming more noticeable. My eyes scanned the skyline for a first glimpse of the prison. I needed to get to Tess.

    The Tower squatted over the surrounding area like a Coruscani ogre, casting deep shadows across the buildings. All the skyscrapers and domes we passed paled in comparison. A ziggurat formed the base of the structure, surrounded by five towers, all of it surrounded in a dark transparisteel outer layer. Every single tower houses prisoners of the Empire, incarcerated there by the Minister of Justice.

    As the Dagger eased through the spaces between skyscrapers, the Sith handed the controls over to DeVare while he began to broadcast the necessary codes to the Tower’s control. DeVare guided the ship towards one of the five towers and when I saw which one I felt a surge of relief. Skywalker Tower. The Traitor’s Dock. Only one person had entered through that dock and survived. And luckily for me, she still resided within the Tower’s walls.

    The double durasteel doors eased open as we drew closer. Through the viewport, I glimpsed a handful of guards waiting inside. Artificial lighting reflected off the brilliant white of their trooper armour and the darker metal of the blasters they held in their hands.

    I closed my eyes as the dock’s entrance drew nearer, preparing myself for what I feared came next. With a roar of thrusters, we popped through the open doors and into the docks.

    I opened my eyes to see the Sith retake the controls, easing us down to land on the durasteel deck. DeVare stood, her blaster trained on me.

    “Get up.”

    “I’d rather not.” I leaned back in the chair, my back aching and my every muscle tense. “It’s really quite comfortable in here.”

    She tightened her finger on the trigger. “Please. Just give me an excuse to use this.”

    Sighing, I stumbled awkwardly to my feet, swaying as the ship bumped against the deck plates. DeVare waved her gun. “You first.”

    I turned and walked down a small corridor. At the bottom, a hatch was cycling open, revealing the dark grey metal of the Tower dock. Feeling light-headed, everything appeared through a haze. Descending the hatch, I stood staring out at the city skyline rapidly vanishing behind the closing dock doors, waiting for DeVare and her Sith companion to join me.

    The troopers stood at attention as DeVare and I filed past them. We passed through the door and out onto a wide walkway. Wind sheer plucked at my clothes, carrying the particular stench only Coruscant could pull off. Hard to believe that a few centuries ago, these corridors had been the home of brown-robed Jedi and their apprentices. The door banged behind us, carrying a sombre tone.

    “Come on,” DeVare said, pushing the barrel of her blaster between my shoulder blades.

    I turned and scowled at her, then took a few faltering steps, barely needing to exaggerate my lack of balance. Off to one side stood the dark brown statue of some ancient Jedi master. I pretended to stumble, my feet slipping on the smooth floor panels. Reaching out as if to catch myself, I pressed my hands to the cold stone face of the statue and prayed that the transmitter inside still worked.

    The Sith reached down and grabbed me, lifting me back to my feet. He turned me around to face him, then smacked me across the face. “Don’t do that again.”

    Thrusting me out in front of him, he pointed his gun at my face. “Now walk.”

    I turned and started to walk along the walkway towards a door cut into the tower metal. Had I actually seen the light flare in the statue’s eyes or had I imagined it? I prayed the light had flared; if so, I might actually get out of this. If it hadn’t…

    Once through the door, we marched down a series of steps that spiralled into the underground heart of Skywalker Tower. DeVare and her Sith herded me down, flight after flight passing us by. Finally we arrived in a small circular chamber with a heavy durasteel door on the other side.

    A gaoler sat at a broken table, eating pirki nuts and spitting the shells at three ratidillos who stood on their hindlegs in the shadows, peering at him with tiny pink eyes. He looked up at us as we arrived and farted.

    “What do you want?”

    “Prisoner for the cells.”

    “No more room.”

    DeVare’s man sighed and pulled out a credcoin that he flicked through the air. The gaoler caught it in one fat hand, squeezing it between his fingers, then pocketed it. Dragging a datapad across the table, he flicked it on.

    “Name?” he asked, looking at me.

    By now I could hardly make a coherent sentence in my head, let alone out loud. DeVare nodded to her man, who darted forward, pushing me back against the wall. I banged my head against the metal, almost blacking out again. He leered at me as his hand reached into my coat, seizing on my wallet. Pulling it out, he glanced at my papers, then snorted.

    “Damn it all to hell! He’s a bloody thieftaker!”

    “Let me see that!”

    DeVare stepped forward, accepting my papers from the Sith. She rifled through them, then looked at me. “You work for the Minister of Justice?”

    I bowed my head, dropping my knee and almost collapsing on the floor “Danil Farwood, at your service.” I slurred the words; my tongue felt three times too thick.

    The gaoler noted the information down on his ledger while DeVare stared at me. Finally, she sneered. “I always knew you thieftakers were bad news. At least now I’ll have some proof for the Minister.”

    Her Sith dragged me back to the middle of the room, while with a heavy sigh, the gaoler picked up his torch and struggled to his feet.

    “Come on then.”

    Limping slightly, he led us over to the door, pulling a datacard from one dirty pocket. Sniffing, he slipped it into the lock and herded us through the door, holding the torch up to light the way. The ratidillos watched us go.

    The wet stone beneath my feet smelled of piss. Every so often, huge metal doors appeared in the circle of light, each one leading to a different cell. With the Sith in front of me and DeVare herself behind, I had no choice but to follow them to the door at the furthest corner.

    The gaoler stopped in front of the door and looked at DeVare’s man, who nodded. Grinning, the gaoler pulled out a second datacard and slipped it into the lock too. Once the door slid open, he sniffed the air, then grinned at me.

    “Go on then. Put him in.”

    DeVare had come up behind me and she stuck me in the kidneys with her blaster. I grunted, stepping forward until I stood in front of the cell. The overwhelming smell of **** and overpowering heat put me in mind of a toilet someone had left simmering on a fire. I took a step back, but the gaoler pushed me forward with one meaty hand. I tripped over my own feet, tumbling to the floor. My face hit the floor, pain erupting along my sinuses.

    I rolled over and saw DeVare stood in the doorway.

    “I’ll come back to see you tomorrow, Farwood. We’ll see how much you really know about the Ghost,” she spat.

    I opened my mouth to make some witty rejoinder, but she stepped back. The door slid shut. I heard the sound of the lock clicking into place and the darkness closed in.

    I was trapped.
  14. aalagartassle SWC Senate Chief of State

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    Jan 11, 2011
    star 4
    Congrats, this is where I was up to last time. Great writing and your scenery is very imaginative.
  15. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    @aalagartassle - Thanks very much! More coming tonight, I hope.
  16. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Tagline - @Ceillean, @aalagartassle

    Chapter Seven

    I crawled across the floor to the cot in the corner, trying to ignore the things that squelched beneath my fingers or crawled over my hands. The fever seemed worse, wracking my body with cold sweats and shakes. I climbed up onto the cot, groaning with every broken motion, until I lay down. My head span.

    As I lay there, I tried to take stock of my situation. Not good. Locked in a cell in the most secure prison in the Empire, accused of murder, a new soul rattling around in my head, and the summons from my mistress would probably kill me by the morning. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more that last seemed a silver lining.

    I drifted for a time, the fever leaving me light headed. Sometime later, it forced me down into scattered dreams. In one, I piloted my X-wing through the Wyrding, pursued by a Fael ship I could not see. In another, two moirae pursued me across the dunes of Tatooine and I knew that they were coming for my soul. In a third, I wandered through the empty corridors of the Three-Eyed Goat, following Tess' disembodied voice.

    When I came to, I don't know how many hours later, a woman stood at the end of my bed.

    Lizzy. It had been months since her soul had come out of hiding. Left weak by the fever, I could only lie there and stare at the woman I had loved. The woman I had killed and whose soul I had stolen.

    Covered in blood, she held her arms out towards me, her mouth moving silently. I moaned and tried to move away, but in my weakened state I could barely even lift a finger.

    She drew closer to me. I felt a cold draft wrap around my body, giving me chills due as much to her presence as to my fever. She clambered onto the bed, her body moving with erratic, jumpy movement. Slowly, she started to climb up my body.

    I lifted my head and watched her draw close. Soon, her face hovered above mine. She still wore the same terrified expression on her face as she had the day I killed her. Even up close, I couldn't read her lips enough to decipher what she was saying. Finally, she lifted her fist and made a knocking motion on my forehead. Then she vanished.

    Moments later, I heard knocking.

    I lay there, unable to move. The knocking came again. I mumbled for whoever had knocked to go away, I wasn't in any state to have visitors. Besides, the Wookies were still playing sabaac in the corner. Or something to that effect.

    The knocking came again, louder this time, and followed almost immediately by a cracking sound. I turned my head very, very slowly and saw the metal deck plates a few steps away crumble inwards. Out of the hole appeared a flashlight, followed by an arm, then a shoulder. Moments later, a man's face appeared. He seemed vaguely familiar, with half of his face hidden behind a leather mask, from beneath which grew half a head of dirty blond hair.

    The man who lived beneath the floor grinned when he saw me.

    "Welcome back, brother."

    I opened my mouth to reply, but instead I vomited over the side of the bed.

    Then I fainted. Again.

    ***

    When I woke up, I was sat in a chair. Great waves of pain rolled over me, descending from my head down to my toes and then back up. Over. And over. And over. I started to shiver. I couldn’t move anymore than that. My head rolled back against the cushions. The fire beside me held back the cold from outside, but the cold inside my body left my teeth chattering and my knees trembling.

    I heard a door open behind me. Moments later, Tess appeared behind the chair opposite. My eyesight wavered, and the mirrormask she wore over her face seemed to ripple like water. Only her eyes were visible, green as a Rodian’s snout, but holding the cold passage of time locked in them like some ancient creature frozen in amber. At that moment, though, they were filled with fear and panic.

    “Danil? What is it?” She looked past me at the man who had appeared from below the floor of my cell, and who now towered above my chair. A man I now recognised. Drea. Talon Drea. “Talon? You didn’t tell me it was this bad.”

    Talon shrugged. “I told you he was sick.”

    “Oh by the… He’s going into a summoning trance. I knew I shouldn’t have used that damned crystal… We’re going to have to do something. Danil, this is going to be very painful. Talon, hold him.”

    I doubted I could have broken his grasp even if I had been well, so Talon easily wrapped his arm around my upper body, holding me trapped against the chair. Tess leaned forward and suddenly a knife appeared in her hand.

    A low shout bubbled up from my throat and my eyes widened. Tess ignored me, cutting up the middle of my shirt, slicing it in two so that it fell away on either side. The cold night air bit into my skin. Moments later, the knife did as well. A single pin prick, followed by a droplet of blood that rolled down my chest and settled in my navel.

    Please. I tried to plead with her in my head. Please. I don’t want to die. Not like this.

    I tried to tell her, but again only a murmur escaped my lips. She reached into her dress and pulled out a vial of blue liquid. Golden dust swirled inside the bottle like a dance of stars, drawing the eye. When she pulled out the stopper, a smell of burnt grass and charred earth filled the room.

    “What is that?” I managed to say, voice strained and foreign to my ear.

    “A little Lethe blood mixed with Sithspawn ashes. It should reveal the spell work on your chest.”

    The what? I wondered before she tipped the bottle upside down and let the liquid wash down over my bared chest. I screamed as the potion stung my flesh, the little golden seeds sticking to my skin and beginning to burrow into my flesh. As they vanished beneath the surface, lines began to appear on my chest, complicated patterns that swirled and dove and bloomed in blacks and blues and purples. After a few moments, a whole complex set of tattoos had appeared on my body, each one burning like a line of fire.

    “What the **** is that?” I choked out.

    Tess refused to meet my eye. She gritted her teeth, sweat beading her forehead. In all the years I had known her, I had never seen her surprised or shocked or ruffled. Until now. Now, she looked absolutely terrified.

    “How did you think I summoned you?” she snapped. “I had this put on you when you were a child, Danil. I had no other choice.”

    Something inside me broke. “You did what?” I screamed at her. Or tried to. “Who the **** gave you the right?” She winced and Talon tightened his hold on my shoulder. I didn’t care. Adrenaline raced through my body, giving me a little extra strength. I struggled against Talon’s bonds. If I had gotten free, I think I might have torn her throat out. How could she? How dare she?

    “The right?” Her mouth tightened. “No one gave me the right. I took it. After I saved you! Remember that? If it hadn’t been for me, you would have been sold to some slaver who would have had you bending over for some Moff. I gave you a life.” She waved a hand. “This has gone on long enough. Talon, hold him down.”

    I spat and cursed at her as Talon complied, both arms wrapping around my upper body again like steel snakes.

    “You bitch. I’m going to kill you!”

    She scowled, muttering to herself as she began to rummage in her robes. She searched through hidden pockets, feeling at bottles then shaking her head. Finally, she lifted out a dark green bottle, the liquid inside shining with a silver light. I heard Talon gasp when he saw it. My own eyes widened and I shut my mouth with a clap.

    “Is that…” Talon asked.

    “Nightspawn. One of only three bottles. And now I have to waste it on him!” She looked at Talon. “Hold him very tightly. This is going to hurt.”

    Before I could take that in, she pulled the cork and poured a good half of the bottle on my chest. The pain was… indescribable. A distant part of my mind imagined it felt like this to have someone peel your skin off layer by layer with a fine knife and then pour vinegar on the wounds. I screamed and screamed, my body going into uncontrollable spasms. At some point, Drea let go of me. I found myself on the floor, looking up through teary eyes. My whole body burned, the lines of fire centred on the tattoo. Even when I had no more breath, I continued to scream in my head.

    Finally, blessedly, the darkness closed in. I found myself falling away, away, away…

    ***

    I woke up in fragments.

    A chair, hard beneath me. I shivered, the cold touching me even beneath the thick synthfabric blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I blinked once, twice, trying to make sense of what I could see. Flames. Flames, roaring in a fire place. A fire place set into a white washed wall. Two chairs before the fire place. Tess. Sat in one of the chairs. Staring at me. Smiling. Holding a glass of golden light. Corellian brandy.

    Dressed in a long simple robe the colour of summer corn, Tess didn’t look any different to the last time I had seen her.For an instant, the fire light refracted through the glass of brandy in a broken kaleidoscope of light, playing across the reflective surface of her mask and twining in her raven hair streaked with white.

    “Good evening.”

    I blinked. “What?”

    “Good evening. You’ve slept all day.”

    I tried to make sense of that and then the memory of that morning came rushing back.

    Without even realising it, I shoved aside the blanket and rose to my feet. Fury dulled the pain in my chest, filling me with added adrenaline. I took a step towards her, raising a hand as if to strike her. She just sat there, swirling the brandy in her glass and smiling at me. Anger flared again, wave after wave leaving me trembling.

    “You… You…”

    “Bitch? Monster? Witch? Sorceress? Whore?” She snorted. “Please, Danil. You know the names people give me. I’ve earned every single one of them, with blood. So go on. Slap me. Punch me. Call me names. Let it out so that we can get on with what is important.”

    Important?! Sithspawn, she really didn’t care. She had as much as raped me, imposing her Force magic on me so that I would be at her beck and call whenever she wanted. She had almost killed me with that spell, dragging me back to her against my will.

    Part of my anger, I admitted to myself, was directed at myself. I had always answered those summons without question. And if you had known? That question surprised me. I forced myself to think about it. If I had known? If she had asked me before putting those chains around my chest? I knew the answer. You would have said yes. You would have said yes to anything back then.

    That hurt more than the betrayal. If she had only asked me instead of forcing it on me, I would have agreed to let her wrap her hand around my heart and squeeze. I had loved her, back then. As a mistress. As a mother. As a lover.

    Cast adrift by my own thoughts, I stumbled backwards and fell back in the chair. I felt as if I had been struck by a piece of driftwood. My chest ached, though whether from the physical scars of the summoning spell or from the revelation of her betrayal, I couldn’t tell. I would need time to make sense of it all. Now wasn’t that time, though. I hated doing it, but I nodded.

    “What do you want?”

    “That’s better,” Tess said, her voice soft. “I do need your help, Danil. And if it can make you feel any better, I have removed the spell. I’ll use some more Lethe blood to show you, if you don’t trust my word anymore. You’re free.”

    I almost asked her to do it, just to spite her. Instead, I shook my head. I was tired of games.

    “No. I trust you… for now. Just tell me what you want.”

    Instead of answering me, she stood and walked over to a small table on top of which sat a glass decanter and another glass. She looked at me, quirking an eyebrow. I hesitated. Did she want to confuse me? Dull my wits with alcohol? I decided that if she wanted to, she could just use her magic to do that. Besides, I hadn’t had a drink since the tavern where this had all started, and my body screamed for a taste. I nodded. She took her time pouring a glass of the brandy, then brought it back to me. I forced myself to take a just a sip, as she returned to her own seat and sat down.

    “I need you to reap a soul for me.”

    I swallowed, and shook my head even before it had finished burning its way down my throat.I took another moment to enjoy the familiar sensation before speaking. “I told you five years ago, Tess. I’m done being your assassin. I reaped enough souls to last a lifetime on your say so. No more. You want someone dead, you’re going to have to use a knife.”

    “I don’t want you to kill a man,” she said. “He’s already dead. I want you to find out how he died.”

    I settled back in my chair, cradling my glass in my palm to warm the potent beverage. Then I just looked at her, eyebrow raised. I didn’t expect her to laugh.

    “You’ll never change, my Danil.” She sounded almost fond. “Still looking for reasons, after all these years? After all you saw? Even as a child, you always asked why.”

    “Not reasons,” I said quietly. “Just truths.”

    “You should know better than most, those are dangerous things. They rarely match what we were hoping for. In this case, though, I think that this should interest you.”

    She reached into her robe, rummaging around in those innumerable pockets and finally drew out an object wrapped in a white linen cloth. She tossed it to me, then steepled her fingers, looking over them at me as I unwrapped it. I folded the fabric back to reveal a fleshy starfish shape. A stab of fear pierced my chest at the sight. I drew in a deep breath and looked up at her.

    “Purifiers.”

    "Have you been following their sect since…?" She trailed off, unwilling to finish the sentence.

    I allowed my thoughts to wander for a moment. The Purifiers were a fanatical sect of the same True Way cult that Senator Palkranin had belonged to. Typically Yuuzhan Vong, they blamed Force users – both Jedi and Sith – for the unleashing of the Great Change that had created the Wyrding and darkened the stars. As far as they were concerned, our very survival angered their god Yun-Yuuzhan and his pantheon of under-gods. An affront that could and must only be remedied by fire. And those were some of the least colourful claims. Such as the rumour that the Empress was a Sith whore, that she consorted with the Fael King and went to wild orgies in abandoned space stations within the Wyrding.

    I nodded.“I have.”

    “I've been hearing whispers for the past few weeks about a group of them entering the city. Sent by the Supreme Overlord himself all the way from Bimmiel. Talon has been keeping his little spies busy, looking for some sign of them. I’ve used a few of my more ingenuous disguises to infiltrate the courts, when I have been able.” Tess could be a very free prisoner when she needed to be. “But I’ve found nothing beyond the mad ravings of a few Yuuzhan Vong immigrants left in the Dregs. Until now.”

    She stood up, putting the glass down on the table. I watched her move across the room to a bookcase next to the fire. After studying the books for a moment, she selected one seemingly at random and pulled. I heard a click, followed by the dry rumble of machinery behind. Coming to my feet, I followed her over, stopping a few feet away. The bookcase swung open, revealing a dark passageway redolent with the smell of musty dust.

    Tess paused before passing through the door, lifting a torch from the mantel piece. I hesitated a moment as she stepped into the darkness beyond. Tess would not kill a man in dark passageways. If she wanted you dead enough to do it by her own hand, she would look in your eyes as she did it.

    Now there’s a comforting thought. I hesitated a moment longer, then followed her into the darkness.
    Last edited by JABrown, Aug 9, 2013
    Admiral Volshe and Ceillean like this.
  17. aalagartassle SWC Senate Chief of State

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    Member Since:
    Jan 11, 2011
    star 4
    I guess the tag didn't work?:oops: I spent ages looking for this. It didn't dissapoint
    Tess is one cold one isn't she!
  18. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    @aalagartassle - Just saw this! Thanks, so sorry you didn't get the tag. Let me know if this one goes through. Not sure when I'll be updating this, but as soon as I do, I'll let you know!
  19. aalagartassle SWC Senate Chief of State

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    Member Since:
    Jan 11, 2011
    star 4
    Yep this one did. Thanks. It's a shame that such good writing [and gritty writing] is not so much read around in these threads. I thoroughly enjoy reading your writings. I don't much care for mills and boone but I think that I maybe the minority.
  20. Nightvision91 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2013
    star 1
    I am hooked to this series. You've got a fan in me and I can't wait to see where this goes.
  21. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    @aalagartassle - Thanks so much, wow that means a lot. Unfortunately, some health problems involving my son over the past year or so mean I can't update this as often as I would like, but I hope I'll be able to get some more up soon. And again, thanks so much for the kind words.

    @Nightvision91 - That's so great! Would you like me to tag you when I update? Welcome to the fun!
    Nightvision91 likes this.
  22. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    Tagline - @Ceillean, @aalagartassle, @Nightvision91

    Chapter Eight

    Tess led me through secret passages probably not used since the days of the Jedi. We walked down four or five floors until she stopped in front of an actual wooden door. Muttering under her breath, she scratched an unbinding spell on the door and activated it with a small infusion of Force-power. I heard the distinctive click of the lock.

    Tess twisted the handle and opened the door inwards. As she did, a wave of foul air rolled out and I almost pulled the door closed myself.

    Sithspawn, how long has he been dead?”

    Three days.”

    Three days. No wonder. I used to think that nothing could stink worse than the Works in summer, when the industrial waste of all those factories pours into the lower levels and Vong-formed insects swarm on you like clouds. This was a hundred times worse. In two or three breaths, I smelled sickly sweet rotting meat, highlighted by hints of days old **** and piss, rotten eggs and lost somewhere in the rubbish heap the musty smell of an unopened room. I almost threw up, but somehow I was able to keep it under control. I doubt I would have had anything to bring up anyway.

    I waited until I was sure of my stomach before speaking. “You do remember that means I might not be able to get anything from him? There's not likely to be much soul left. Probably not even fragments.”

    I have the uptmost faith in your abilities, Danil.”

    Her words triggered a memory, taking me back to the set of rooms in 500 Republica where we lived on our return to Coruscant. She had said those words to me the first night we made love. I remembered being so nervous I thought I might be sick. In my defence, I was seventeen and almost a virgin, while she was thirty-five and more experienced than anyone. The memory was so incongruous with the smell wafting from the open door, I couldn't help but bark a laugh.

    Tess looked at me, as if worried I was going mad. I shook my head and motioned for her to lead the way. She rolled her eyes and walked through. I laughed again. It died, though, the moment I stepped into the room.

    The body lay on a slab in one corner. He – it was hard to tell for sure – was naked. For the second time in as many days, I was glad for the training Tess had given me. Another man would have run from the room screaming. Part of me still needed her approval though, so I forced myself to calm as I walked round the body, taking in the details.

    He was Yuuzhan Vong. The sloping forehead and blue sacks beneath the eyes were unmistakeable. The skin was mottled and slightly wrinkled, as if it had spent a long time in the water. The penis - definitely a man, then - was shrivelled in size from exposure to cold. The whole body was decomposing rapidly. Maggots infested a gaping wound in the chest and belly, writhing around in the cavity and feeding on what tissue was left. I quickly examined the hole, checking for the organs. The heart and lungs were gone.

    "What kind of water did you find him in?"

    Tess did not sound surprised or impressed by my deduction. I cursed myself for trying to impress her.

    "One of Talon's little eyes and ears found him floating in a sewerage flow just outside the Works two days ago."

    By this time, I was studying the most interesting part of the corpse. His face had been completely burned away. The eye balls had burst, leaving trails like teardrops on his cheeks. What little nose a Vong had had sunk even further inwards, as had his cheeks, the bones collapsing from the heat. His skin was the colour of aged bark. No way to identify him.

    "Anything beyond the cross to identify him?"

    "Nothing," she responded, shaking her head.

    I sighed. I was delaying and she knew it. I had attempted to reap such souls before, never with much success. None of those had been particularly pleasant experiences. I wasn't looking forward to trying it again.

    Trying to ignore the nausea that flickered on the edge of my consciousness, I pulled a rickety old chair over to the table. The odour was overwhelming, waves and waves of the stink crashing against me no matter what I did. I took a deep breath, pulling my gloves off and slowly folding them to slip them into my pocket. The feeling of Tess' eyes on me was ever present. Trying not to think about what I was doing, I reached out and laid two fingers on what was left of the dead man's chest.

    Nothing happened.

    I could feel the fish like consistency of the corpse's skin, springy and hard and cold and wet beneath my hand. But there was no beading on the lips, no exhalation as the body prepared to give up its soul. I pressed harder, closing my eyes and reaching out with immaterial feelers, using my little ability in the Force to try and find a fragment of the Vong's soul.

    "What's wrong?" Tess sounded worried.

    "There's nothing there."

    My senses rummaged around inside the man's mind, searching for the merest hint of a soul fragment. Everything was death and decay, a miasma of rotting tissue. His brain was breaking apart, but it was already an empty shell. Still, I forced myself to go on, to delve ever deeper.

    "You're sure there's nothing?" Tess asked. In my distant confusion, I would have sworn she sounded hopeful.

    "No. Empty as a..."

    I broke off. My mind touched something nestled deep within the dead priest, a fragment of a fragment. I gathered in my will, focusing all of my Force-power on the tiny spark I could almost see in my mind's eye. It was flickering, the soul shard fading away. I reached out and very, very tentatively touched the last piece of the man's soul.

    This wasn't like my earlier reaping. I had to draw it in, picturing the emptiness where my own soul should have been and then imagining this spark moving into it. I struggled with it, straining with every ounce of my being to entice the soul fragment to me. More than once, I was sure that I had lost it. Finally, though, something gave and the small fragment flared to life.

    I fell back as the slightest golden light pearled on the Vong's lips. When the mist rose up, it appeared as a tiny firefly. It flew towards me, and I parted my lips, allowing it to enter my mouth. As usual with a soul fragment, the memory came over me almost instantly. I surrendered to it and allowed the darkness to claim me.
    Last edited by JABrown, Aug 11, 2013
    Admiral Volshe and Ceillean like this.
  23. aalagartassle SWC Senate Chief of State

    VIP
    Member Since:
    Jan 11, 2011
    star 4
    Awesome!!!!

    Imagery


    By this time, I was studying the most interesting part of the corpse. His face had been completely burned away. The eye balls had burst, leaving trails like teardrops on his cheeks.
    [face_nail_biting]^:)^
    WOW!
  24. Rau_Fang Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 28, 2005
    star 2
    I love how you've repurposed the gffa!

    It feels a little like Dark Sun. It's almost like the powers and spells the force has allowed are tearing the gffa apart. And users manipulate the force at their own expense.

    Very cool! I'm excited to see what Dani discovered in the dead Vong.
  25. JABrown Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 22, 2004
    star 1
    @aalagartassle - Thank you so much! I've tried to inject some horror imagery in the story at various points, glad that they're working for you!

    @Rau_Fang - Ooh fresh blood! Sorry, that sounds scary following the horror imagery comment... :p Thank you so much for the comment, I hope you'll continue both reading and posting!
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