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Beyond - Legends Saga - Legends Ἀνάγκη – Necessity beyond Sway | Thrawn, OC, drama/tragedy, pre-ANH to TTT | Epic, e-book available

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Chyntuck, Oct 6, 2014.

  1. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    28: Nice to see Simon resettled on Naboo and Uumana given a proper burial in a beautiful and serene place. Nice too to see Ayesha and Simon interacting as friends again; she has a point about wanting to be treated as a friend rather than as a patient. Though I'm trying to make sense of the reason she gave for not going to see Luke in person. It seems as though she fears that she will cause the death of more of her friends if she goes and sees him—but I guess I just don't get how she makes that jump (though I certainly understand her grief over Tam's family's fate). She seems very much to be letting her fears—irrational and otherwise—stand in the way of her taking any real action toward healing or seeking help, which worries me.

    I hope at least that her time back on good old Nirauan, as I think we can now call it, will be a helpful change of scene. The way things have been going with all Ayesha and Thrawn's friends back in the Core Worlds (more on that later), it's at least good that they have a sort of "reserve" group of friends way out here, though other menaces certainly loom (like these Far Outsiders), and I hope some of them come back from their various commitments soon so that Ayesha can be refreshed by their friendship. Especially if she's going go off on somnambulistic excursions around the Fortress grounds—very curious indeed, making me think that there is something more at work here than just another episode (as if one can really say "just" about those).

    29: And the plot thickens as said somnambulistic excursions go on for four whole days... and then, OH NO, RUMPYYYYYY!!! :_| At least he went bravely, helping his Rryi-Bashi to safetly—but oh gosh, what a way to go, eaten to the bone by those horrid... things that came seemingly out of nowhere! (They reminded me a bit of [hl=black]those mysterious black nit-like things Ayesha saw back in that Yuuzhan Vong painting, only on a grander scale[/hl], and I can't help but think that their presence means that [hl=black]those same Vong are not far behind[/hl].) What will it mean for Ayesha to be without her tender brother—the very last surviving member of her Wookiee family? No wonder she wishes it were all just a terrible dream.

    Thank goodness for those leathery avians, though—what a blessing that they were there to help her. They seem almost like a silent version of the eagles in The Hobbit, and I am intrigued to see whether we'll learn more about them later. (Are they in canon?)

    You know, I have to say—between Onion, Tashi, Kal, Mira, Tam, and now Rumpy, there's been a lot of death over these last several chapters—and that all comes on top of Uumana's and Yakooboo's untimely deaths earlier in the story. Of course dire times do lead to dire events, as we saw on Coruscant under the Isard'shchina (to borrow Russian terminology of a certain period), but to have yet more of it happen just as we thought our hero and heroine escaped all that... oh man, that made it hit especially hard. (I'll also say that it was right after reading this that I learned of David Bowie's death, too.) Knowing (or at least guessing) that [hl=black]the very violent and gruesome YV are just around the corner[/hl] makes me doubly worried, but I'll try to brace myself for more to come.
     
  2. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Rumpy. Sniff. That came sudden and unforeseen. :_|

    I hope some rays of light will stay in her life!
     
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  3. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing!
    :( It's going to be difficult to recover from that one.
    Oh, I think that Ayesha gave up on being rational by now. She feels that the universe is conspiring to make her exceedingly lonely, and she kinda has a point :(
    I really need to catch up on those chapter endnotes :) Both the carnivorous insects and the avians are Legends, they appear in Vision of the Future. The insects a.k.a. Fire Creepers are a predator species native to Nirauan, and the avians (Qom Qae for the cliff-dwellers, Qom Jha for the cave-dwellers) are a Force-sensitive species. In VotF they communicate with Luke via the Force, so my idea here was that they can sense that Ayesha is "special" but she can't answer them.

    However, regarding the Vong, yes, they're still around and [hl=black]we'll be visiting them soon.[/hl]
    One ray of light will certainly remain in her life, but, um... it's complicated [face_whistling]

    Thanks again, everyone! Next chapter up straight away.
     
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  4. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.

    -----------------------------------------------------

    Chapter 30: Silence

    For months afterwards, Ayesha didn’t utter a word. She merely nodded or shook her head when spoken to and developed a sign language of sorts, but no sound ever crossed her lips. Thrawn posted Rukh by the door of their quarters in the early days to make sure that she didn’t wander off unnoticed, but it proved unnecessary. She was spending her days in her workshop, crouching on the floor with her back to the wall, one arm hugging her knees and the other wrapped protectively around the bundle made with her old hospital gown. She wouldn’t let anyone touch it or even look at it, and it remained unclear on the base what had happened to Rumpy. When Thrawn came home in the evenings and pulled her to her feet, she returned his hug and followed him obediently to the ‘fresher, then ate dinner and huddled against him to sleep, but every time he questioned her about what had happened during her expedition outside the fortress or asked where Rumpy had gone, she shivered in terror, shook her head nervously, buried her face in his chest and remained silent.

    The days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months, and Thrawn found himself at a complete loss what to do. He tried everything he could think of to make her talk. He brought over Doctor Cottle, LaRone, Soontir Fel. He had Matt and Valeria reassigned to Nirauan to keep her company. He tried to cajole, to press, even to frighten her, but, even though she reacted, sometimes violently, she never spoke. As the weeks went by he was reduced to pleading. She responded by wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly but remained silent once more, and things finally came to a head on an evening when, after their shower ritual, he cupped her face in his hands as they stood in the bedroom in front of the chair where their nightclothes were folded. “Ayoo’sha, please,” he said. “Please say something. Anything. Please. I am begging you.” There was a flash of fear in her eyes and she shook her head. “Please, Ayoo’sha. It has been months. Will you never speak to me again? Will you say nothing?” She shook her head again and took a step back. There was an uneasy silence. “Do you not trust me anymore, Ayoo’sha?” he finally asked with genuine pain in his voice. “Do you not care for me?” She grabbed his hand and kissed it fiercely, pointed at her heart, then at his, and entwined her fingers together. “Then why are you shutting me out?”

    She opened her mouth several times, but no sound came out and she closed it again. Thrawn sighed as if he were carrying a massive weight on his shoulders and pulled on his jumpsuit trousers. The glow in his eyes was unusually dull. He finally turned away from her. “I am sorry it has come to this, Ayoo’sha. I cannot go on this way. I can simply not.”

    A wail of anguish that did not sound remotely human made him spin around and look at her. She had fallen to her knees, her hands joined in supplication, her face contorted in despair as she stared at him with tears streaming down her cheeks. Thrawn watched petrified as she opened her mouth again but all she could produce was a series of inarticulate cries. Her jaw was trembling so hard that she had to clutch it with both hands, and she finally sank face forward on the floor and sobbed.

    He rushed to her side and lifted her in his arms. “Calm yourself, Ayoo’sha,” he murmured in utter bewilderment. “Please calm yourself.” He sat on the bed and held her on his lap, rocking her back and forth and seeking to soothe her with whispers in Cheunh. She was still trying to talk but to no avail, and she was soon gasping for breath. He placed a finger on her lips to silence her. “Do not speak. You do not need to speak. You need to breathe.” He removed her hands from her jaw, cradled her head against his bare shoulder and rubbed her back, pressing his lips to her forehead and whispering in her ear until she quieted down.

    It was dark by the time he stood up and helped her pull on a nightdress. He ordered dinner and led her to the kitchen table. They ate in silence. He then cleared the dishes and pulled his chair to sit just in front of her. She opened her mouth to try and speak again. “Hush. Just nod or shake your head, all right?” She nodded. He took a deep breath. “Were you somehow wounded when you went outside? Is there something Doctor Cottle did not see?” She shook her head. “So you should still be able to speak.” She nodded. “But you cannot.” She shook her head. There was a pause. “Something terrible happened during your walk outside.” She gave a terrified nod. “To you?” She shook her head. “To your brother.” She nodded. “Do you know where he is now?”

    She pointed at the apartment beyond the kitchen door. Thrawn arched an eyebrow. She took his hand to lead him to the workshop and gestured towards the bundle she spent her days hugging. Thrawn took a step closer. “May I open this?” She nodded and looked away as he untangled the knot she had made with the sleeves to peek inside. She heard him stifle a curse. He came to stand in front of her again. “You saw it happen,” he said uncertainly. “Whatever did this to him, you saw it happen.” She nodded again, averting her gaze from his.

    Thrawn tucked two fingertips under her chin to draw her head back to him. He scrutinized her face, trying to decipher the whirlwind of emotions in her eyes. Tears were rolling down her cheeks once more, and she joined her hands again in supplication. He pulled her in a tight embrace. “I am so sorry, Ayoo’sha,” he whispered. “I am so, so sorry. I have failed you at every turn, I always manage to add insult to injury, and instead of throwing me out of your life, you are asking me to stay. Please forgive me. Please forgive me.”

    * * *​

    There were changes to her behaviour in the following days. Thrawn escaped back to their quarters between two meetings the next morning to find her examining different types of wood in the storage area of her workshop. In the evening, she was crouching again near Rumpy’s remains but she was holding a sketch pad instead of hugging the bundle. He saw some drawings on the table a few days later. It was the incomprehensible doodles she favoured when working on a new project, but he did experience some relief at the idea that she was finally trying to express something. After another week, he found her scratching at a small piece of wood with a knife. There was blood on one of her fingers, she had apparently cut herself, but she had bandaged the wound on her own. When Thrawn took her hand with an expression of undisguised concern, she gave him a small smile and mimed an avian flapping its wings. It made his eyes twinkle and, for the first time in months, they exchanged a passionate kiss.

    Thrawn started shuttling back and forth to the Admonitor again. “I will not be long, Ayoo’sha,” he murmured before leaving in the small hours of the morning on his first trip. “It will only be twenty-four hours. I should be back tomorrow around this time.” She nodded sleepily. “Will you be here?” he asked. She pulled his hand to her, palm upwards, and laid hers over it, then lifted it to her mouth and kissed it. “Until tomorrow, then.”

    When he returned home at dawn the next morning, Ayesha was wide awake. The workshop table had been pushed to the side and she was running her small hands over the massive wroshyr tree limb lying in its stead. “I see that you finally put your binary loadlifter to good use,” he said pleasantly. She shook her head. Thrawn cocked an eyebrow. She pointed at the wood, then at herself. “Are you telling me that you dragged this piece yourself?” She nodded and, ignoring his puzzled eyebrow, she took him to the ‘fresher for a long, hot shower, then huddled in his arms and fell asleep instantly.

    She started working on the wood very cautiously, as if fearing to hurt it. Thrawn often saw her with a stylus tucked behind her ear while she merely caressed the tree limb with her fingertips, but over the days something started taking shape. She removed the bark and peeled off shaving after shaving until it became a rough wave, then switched to a smaller tool and began carving details. Her progress slowed down and Thrawn started worrying again when it became obvious that she was crying every day while she worked on the sculpt. “This is not doing you any good, Ayoo’sha,” he told her once when he came home to find her kneeling near the block of wood and weeping. He tried to remove the stylus from her hand, but she pulled back angrily, pointed at the bundle with Rumpy’s bones, then at the sculpt and clutched her head in her hands. “I understand,” he said soothingly. “I only want to be sure that you are not hurting yourself.” She tapped a finger on her forehead and mimed snapping something in two, then gestured towards her tools on the edge of the table. He cupped her face in his hands and looked at her straight in the eyes. “Are you certain that this is the way for you to go?” She nodded firmly and led him to his study, where her Fijisi wood self-portrait was, as always, prominently displayed on the desk. He cocked an eyebrow in incomprehension. She pointed at the Screaming Woman’s open mouth, then at her own, and hammered her fist on her chest.

    He frowned. “You are trying to scream,” he said hesitantly. She shook her head. Her finger went to the brand mark on the sculpt’s shoulder, then to her own and finally to his eyes. He sighed. “It is true. Sometimes I do not see things even when they are right in front of me.” He looked at her carefully. “Is there any way I can help you?” She pulled his open palm, placed hers over it, then flipped them both so that his hand was on top, and stood on the tip of her toes to kiss him. He smiled and wrapped his arms around her waist. “This is something we settled a long time ago, Ayoo’sha. I am yours and you are mine, now and forever.”

    Reports were coming in meanwhile from patrol ships of unrest in a cluster of star systems located between the edge of the Chiss Ascendancy and Imperial territory, until Thrawn couldn’t put off going on a mission any longer. “We must intervene before this turns into an all-out war,” he told Ayesha on a day when he turned up with a surprise lunch. “I have reasons to believe that Nuso Esva is behind this turmoil. But I am confident that this trip will not last more than three standard weeks. Will you be alright on your own?” She gave a sad little nod. He hesitated. “Do you promise to be here when I return?” She pointed at the door of their quarters, then at herself, waved her finger in a ‘no’ motion and placed her palm over his. His lips twitched. “You do not have to stay at home all the time, Ayoo’sha. Just do not leave the fortress. Please.” She shook her head and traced an imaginary line on the floor. Thrawn cocked an eyebrow but she didn’t elaborate. “All right. Your friend Vaantaar will be staying on the base, I will ask him to come and check on you regularly.” She shrugged and gestured towards the workshop. “Yes, I know that you are working hard, but you should still see another sentient being every now and then.”

    When he came back fourteen days later, Ayesha was sitting quietly on the sofa waiting for him. It was late in the evening and she had saved him some dinner – apparently she had somehow found out that his shuttle had landed without leaving the apartment – and, once he had eaten, she led him to the ‘fresher, then cradled his head on her shoulder and watched him fall asleep. After breakfast the next morning, she took him to her workshop, where a large floatpad and the wroshyr wood sculpt were wrapped in white dust sheets. She pulled the drapes off and took a step back. Thrawn gave a horrified start.

    The life-size sculpture represented Rumpy being devoured alive by insects. On one end was his head, his mouth open in a howl as a few bugs crawled around his face and on his shoulders, weaving in and out of his shaggy fur. His midsection was completely covered by the swarm, with paws protruding from the bulging wave as if thrashing in pain, while flesh had already been stripped off his lower limbs, leaving only skeletal remains. Ayesha had reproduced the scene with excruciating detail for a result that was crudely realistic and bore no resemblance whatsoever to any other of her works. There was none of the eerie luminosity that characterized her sculpts, no beauty, no grace. It was plain and factual.

    Thrawn’s face was like an open book as he stared at the piece. He finally turned to Ayesha and opened his mouth to speak, but he was visibly lost for words. She shrugged her understanding and gestured towards the floatpad, where she had reconstituted Rumpy’s skeleton on a thin wood plank, then took from a shelf the funerary urn that had held Yakooboo’s ashes when it had been brought to her aboard the Admonitor. Thrawn took a deep breath to steady himself. “You want to perform Ralyiikha for your brother.” She nodded and pointed at the sky through the window. “You would like to go to Kashyyyk?” She shook her head and patted the urn before pointing at the sky again. His expression softened. “You want to return to the jungle planet where we performed Ralyiikha for your father.” She nodded. He took another look at the skeleton. “Shall we proceed with the cremation before we leave?” She nodded. “We have an incinerator on the base. Would that be acceptable?” She shook her head, patted the wroshyr carving and mimed chopping wood. Thrawn glanced at the sculpt and averted his eyes quickly. “You are right. Will you allow me to help?”

    The base staff were baffled that evening when a macabre procession made its way through the corridors. Many were clearly thinking that the Grand Admiral had lost his mind when they saw Thrawn carrying Rumpy’s two heavy ryyk blades strapped behind his back and steering the floatpad, until they came closer and saw the sculpture carried by the binary loadlifter that Ayesha was guiding. Some Chiss warriors were so shocked by the sculpt that they turned greenish pale and had to excuse themselves. Most however simply fell in step behind them, the five stormtroopers of the Hand of Judgement came to stand around Rumpy’s remains like a guard of honour, and the crowd had grown to more than a hundred sentients by the time they reached the top of the highest tower, with more streaming in as word spread across the fortress.

    A crate of stones somehow materialized as Ayesha manoeuvred the massive woodcarving to the ground. A group of Talz disposed them at the centre of the platform to host the funeral pyre while Thrawn handed one of the ryyk blades to Ayesha and balanced the other in his hand. She launched herself at the sculpt with a fury. Blisters were forming on her fingers as she hacked it to pieces, and tears were flowing from her eyes, but she and Thrawn didn’t stop until they stood before a mound of firewood. The Talz built the pyre before Quiller, Grave, Marcross and Brightwater lifted the thin plank bearing Rumpy’s remains like ceremonial pallbearers and lowered it cautiously on the pile of wood. LaRone stepped forward and laid the two ryyk blades in a cross over his ribs.

    There was a long silence as the assembly filed past to bid Rumpy farewell. Vaantaar laid a Troukree knife at his feet, the Imperial officers and crewmen abandoned their caps at his side, and the Chiss warriors tore the burgundy patches off their uniforms to cover his bones. Valeria took the bottle of mouf liver oil proffered by a Chiss who had visited the Poachers’ Settlement on Kashyyyk and poured it over the wood. Thrawn then extracted a bundle of wroshyr bark shavings from the urn, lit it and handed it to Ayesha. She gave Rumpy’s skull one last look, her lips formed a silent word of apology, and she stepped forward to ignite the pyre. She felt Thrawn’s hand tighten around hers and Soontir Fel’s on her shoulder, and, as the flames surged to the sky, she saw a flock of leathery avians circle over the tower before flying back to their nesting in the cliffs.

    * * *​

    The whine of repulsorlifts echoed across the jungle as Thrawn landed the Lambda-class shuttle in the small clearing. He unstrapped himself from the pilot’s seat and turned to Ayesha, who was sitting in the co-pilot’s place and hugging the funerary urn nervously. There was a flash of fear in her eyes as she stared through the transparisteel viewport. Thrawn arched an eyebrow. His gaze followed her pointed finger but he didn’t appear to see anything. She mimed an insect flying about and diving to bite her. Thrawn glanced outside again, finally noticing the buzzing flies, and looked back at her. “There is nothing to fear, Ayoo’sha. The insects on this planet are not dangerous at all. As a matter of fact, there are no animals here that present a danger to a Human or a Chiss.” He stood up and took the urn. “Come,” he said in Cheunh. “Your father is waiting for his son.”

    Their trek across the forest was slow – vegetation had invaded the path that Rumpy had cleared for them on their previous visit to the planet – but they finally reached the boulder from which Ayesha had dispersed Yakooboo’s ashes and climbed up. The heavy wooden bowl was waiting for them on the top. She emptied the urn into it and they knelt on either side. After a few minutes of contemplation, Thrawn took her hand in his and plunged it in the ashes. She let handful after handful of the thin grey dust brush through her fingers, and, long after the bowl was empty, she was still kneeling on the boulder, still as a statue, as if expecting the jungle below to somehow reciprocate her offering.

    The sun was low on the horizon when Thrawn pulled her up and led her back to the shuttle. She stopped at the foot of the boarding ramp and tugged at his sleeve. “What is it?” he asked. She gestured towards the clearing, tilted her head to the side, resting it in her hand, and closed her eyes. “You would like to sleep here?” She pointed at her ear and waved at the forest. The chirrups and tweets of a wide variety of avians could be heard as they gathered in the trees for the night. She then pointed at herself and mimed cradling a child in her arms. Thrawn nodded. “I can understand why this planet would remind you of your homeworld. I will instruct the droids to set up a shelter for us.”

    She shook her head and pointed at the open sky. “The bi-state memory plastic shelter comes with a removable roof. The nocturnal animals are not dangerous, but I assure you that they can be quite a nuisance if they find their way into your bed.” She gave him a curious look. “I know this planet better than I care to admit, Ayoo’sha. This is where I was exiled.” Her expression turned from curiosity to concern and she pointed at him, then at the shuttle. “No, this is fine. As strange as it may seem, I actually miss the silence of this place since I have been trapped in the hustle and bustle of the Empire.”

    He came out of the shuttle a few minutes later with a bundle of cloth and a glowrod, followed by two maintenance droids who were carrying the shelter and bunk bed parts. She was examining a low bush whose bright green branches were studded with small berries. “These are pyussh berries,” he said. “They are not quite as nice as your favourite wasaka berries, but they are an acceptable substitute.” He plucked an overripe berry from the bush and crushed it, then crouched and held his hand to the ground. Within seconds, a small rodent emerged from the tall grass, its tiny nose shivering in an olfactory delirium as it came close enough to bite the fruit off his fingers, then ran away. Thrawn picked a few more berries as he stood up, popped one in his mouth and fed one to Ayesha. He was smiling. “Come with me. There is something I want to share with you before it is dark.”

    They walked for a few minutes in the underbrush until they reached the bank of a creek. The crystalline water was flowing gently, rolling the pebbles softly in its wake. Thrawn hung the bundled towel from a low branch, stripped off his clothes and helped her remove hers. He then lifted her in his arms and waded in the stream. “This river has a soul,” he whispered in Cheunh as he lowered her in a shallow pool illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun. “It has a rich, a beautiful, a luminous soul like yours. I used to come here because it could wash away my loneliness, and now it will wash away the tears, the sorrow and the darkness from you. All you need to do is to ask. It will show you the way.”
     
  5. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    *purrs* A true sense of healing once more through art and that unique stream. @};- Touching and supportive tone throughout.
     
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  6. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    I am glad that Thrawn supported her during the Wookie funeral rites. Actually at every step of it. @};-

    As usually I cried I lot when reading this, but it was beautifully written. Thank you!
     
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  7. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for reading and reviewing!
    Thanks :) Thrawn is not very good at being around when Ayesha needs him until after the fact, but once he's there it's fair to say that he has the patience of a saint.
    Thank *you* :) I don't intend to make you cry, but I'll take that as a compliment.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Chapter 31: Fire

    If Thrawn had expected that, after performing the funeral rites for her brother, Ayesha would allow herself to speak again, he was sorely disappointed. She maintained her self-imposed silence, as if she still needed to punish herself for Rumpy’s death, and she continued having violent nightmares at night that caused her to wake up screaming or to run hiding in the corner of the kitchen. However, she accepted to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor her movements, lest she should wander off again on her own, and he found solace in the fact that she was now spending her days in a frenzy of activity in her workshop. She was working on several sculpts at once and there was no clear pattern to what she was doing, but she appeared to have found something that gave her a sense of purpose. All Thrawn could do was hope that it would ultimately lead her to full recovery.

    She was so absorbed in her work that she didn’t seem to notice that Thrawn was out and about for hours at a time, even more than he would under normal circumstances, and that he did not speak much of his projects. It was LaRone’s and Valeria’s regular visits that kept her up to date on developments in the Fortress. The Grey Wolf had made contact with Nuso Esva once more, and Captain Parck was pursuing a relentless campaign against the alien warlord, whose forces were confined to an ever smaller area of the Unknown Regions. Meanwhile, the Discipline had been patrolling the outer borders of the Empire of the Hand and had begun receiving transmissions from the deep space probes that the Admonitor had launched some three years earlier during its hunt for the Vagaari. Valeria wasn’t on the team processing the data – it was mostly astrographic stuff, she said, nothing that she or Ayesha could help with – but Matt was increasingly alarmed by the analysts’ reports, and she often wondered aloud what had him on tenterhooks. Ayesha waved her hand towards the window, as if to indicate the far reaches of space. “You think it’s the Far Outsiders, don’t you?” Valeria asked. Ayesha nodded. “I think so too. Do you know what they’re planning about it?”

    Ayesha merely gave her a smile and a fatalistic shrug, and she went back to work.

    It was an offhand comment from Syal that finally triggered her interest. Baron Fel’s wife often came by in the afternoon with what she liked to call her posse. She was still looking after the Vermel children in addition to her two elder boys, and she had given birth to Jagged in the meantime. The little ones were intimidated by Ayesha at first – she heard Davin once ask his mother why this strange lady who didn’t talk always looked sad – but they soon warmed to her, especially after she started carving improvised toys for them. It became a game for them to sit in her workshop and challenge her to sculpt whatever animal or object they had in mind, and once each one of the four older children had his or her toy, they would sit at the lounge table to colour them while Ayesha returned to her work and Syal remained at her side with the baby to chat.

    It was during one such afternoon that Syal mentioned the military leadership’s plans for an expedition to the edge of the Galaxy. “Soontir thinks it may last for up to six months,” she said with a sigh. “And he didn’t say as much, but I don’t believe it’s a simple expedition they’re planning. It’s a full-fledged campaign against these alien invaders they keep talking about.” Ayesha looked up and raised her eyebrows in question. “Soontir forgot to deactivate his datapad yesterday. I saw a very long list of ships and supplies, the sort you would need for a major military operation.” She sighed again. “I don’t like it, you know. I always hated it when he left and I worried that he would be in harm’s way, but now with Jag it’s even worse.” She kissed the infant’s forehead. “Soontir was on missions when Davin and Chak were babies. I had to look after them on my own. But this time I got used to having him around with Jag, he never left for more than a few weeks at a time. I’m going to miss him terribly.”

    When Thrawn returned home late that evening, Ayesha was waiting for him on the couch, displaying visible signs of impatience. As soon as he stepped into their quarters, she stood up, pointed at him and then at the sky, and tilted her head in question. He arched an eyebrow and she pointed at him again, then waved towards the window in the gesture that had come to mean the depths of the Unknown Regions. “Yes,” he said finally. “I will be leaving on a long campaign soon.” She tilted her head once more. “I do not know how soon, Ayoo’sha. Perhaps a few weeks, perhaps a month. It is still in the planning stages.” She nodded, as if she had the answer she wanted, and took his hand to lead him to the ‘fresher. The grit of dirt on his skin attracted another inquisitive look. “We are renovating parts of the Fortress,” he said evasively. “I went to supervise the works myself tonight.”

    She looked at him some more, then shrugged indifferently, took him to the ‘fresher for a shower, served him dinner and lay in bed at his side. There had been no physical intimacy between them since her fateful trek outside the base, and like every night she merely huddled in his warmth, as if to make herself tiny against him and seek his protection, but he thought he noticed that her embrace was somewhat tighter this time.

    * * *​
    In the days that followed she focused single-mindedly on her work. There were dozens of pieces spread out on the workshop table, and she was alternating between them in what appeared to be no particular order, but Thrawn soon saw a pattern emerge. The sculpts could be divided into two categories. Half of them, even in their unfinished state, conveyed feelings of joy, warmth and affection, and they exuded the strange light that had always emanated from Ayesha’s works in her happier days. The other half were dark, twisted and raw, not unlike the piece she had created to explain what had happened to Rumpy, but they also reminded him of the disturbing, ominous flats she had put on display for her end-of-fellowship exhibition. And then there was a tall chunk of Fijisi wood that stood permanently on her potter’s wheel and that seemed to cheer her up every time she looked at it. She worked on it very slowly, as if deliberately taking her time, and sometimes she simply popped into her workshop after dinner or before breakfast to carve a single notch into it, or even only to caress the wood.

    Thrawn’s trips back and forth to the Admonitor became more frequent as time went by and preparations for his journey entered their final stages. Valeria left on a supply convoy to join Matt aboard the Discipline, and LaRone’s visits were now few and far between – he often accompanied Thrawn to the Star Destroyer orbiting Nirauan, and he avoided calling on Ayesha when the Grand Admiral was on planet so as not to take up what little time they had together. She didn’t seem to mind being left to her own devices, it gave her the peace she needed to complete her sculpts, and she didn’t leave her quarters for days at a time. It was only when she went to the mess for lunch on a day where all five stormtroopers of the Hand of Judgement were available to see her that she understood that the base was abuzz with activity.

    The tables were occupied by aliens of so many species that the Humans and Chiss almost seemed out of place among them. She recognised a few familiar faces as her eyes wandered around the room – Vaantaar was there, sitting with a group of his compatriots, and there was a Talz commander she had met on New Alzoc – but her expression of sheer awe caused Quiller to chuckle. “It’s impressive, isn’t it?” the pilot said. “Thrawn’s gathered all his forces for this campaign. We’d seen these aliens before, but never all of them in the same room. Now the Empire of the Hand really feels like an empire.”

    They left on the shuttle in the afternoon, together with Soontir Fel and Thrawn, and Ayesha hastened back to her workshop, as if sensing that she had little time left. This was confirmed when Syal came over and told her that, according to her husband, the fleet was scheduled to leave Nirauan in four days. Ayesha nodded her thanks and threw herself head-first into her work. She carved and sawed and sanded and polished, hardly remembering to eat or sleep – fortunately the kitchen staff were aware by now of her bad eating habits, and they took it upon themselves to bring her meals – and when Thrawn returned three days later at dawn, he found her covered in sawdust and grime, but with a satisfied look on her face as she looked at the display that adorned the room.

    The shelf along the left-hand wall carried what he had dubbed her Sculpts of Light, and now that they were completed he could see that they represented all the people she had known and loved. There were portraits of Kal and Mira, Onion and Tashi, Yakooboo and Rumpy, there was a statue of Tam holding a grav-ball and a miniature reproduction of the Twi’lek Dancer. There were also a few people he didn’t know, but he could imagine who they were – the man with the tattered clothes and the woman with a Qukuuf on her cheek were her birth parents, and the other two Wookiees were no doubt Messiri and Rabarruk. The shelf on the opposite wall carried the darkness. The pieces didn’t seem to represent any single individual in particular, but they were a tangle of writhing limbs, screaming mouths and rotting flesh, and three sculpts placed in the middle of the row represented the threats – indefinable faces with piercing eyes that poured hatred on the dying beings on either side. And, standing at the centre of the table, there was the tall chunk of Fijisi wood, now carved in the shape of two lovers exchanging a passionate kiss, their bodies so tightly entwined that they seemed to be one. Ayesha pulled him forward to show him the scar on the woman’s shoulder and the protruding vein on the man’s upper arm, and smiled.

    She could see that Thrawn wasn’t sure how to react as his eyes travelled from the Lovers to the sculpts of happiness, then to the collection of pain and death, and then back to her. She took the Fijisi wood piece and placed it firmly on the shelf of light, and keyed a few commands on her datapad.

    The binary loadlifter moved forward and came to present an empty crate just under the shelf of darkness. Without a second thought she swept the row of sculpts into it, then took Thrawn’s hand and followed the heavy mechanical out of their quarters. The corridors of the base were deserted at this early time of the morning, and they only encountered one patrol as they made their way to the north-east corner. Thrawn finally nodded his understanding when they reached the door of the incinerator room, and he punched in his private code to open it.

    They stood there in silence for a moment, until Ayesha gestured towards the mouth of the furnace, as if inviting Thrawn to do the honours. He stepped forward and started extracting the dark sculpts from the crate, and, once she had confirmed her intention with a nod of encouragement, he threw them into the fire. Seeing them close by, he could associate each piece with an individual or an event of her life – subtle signs indicated that they represented the Krytos plague, the destruction of the Manarai district, the barbaric punishment of slaves and prisoners, Palpatine, Isard and Paraseel Malki, the crushing, overwhelming forces of fate and destiny. He had almost reached the bottom of the pile when he pulled out a carving that showed a deformed body floating in water. The presence of a furry, lizard-like creature at its side gave him pause, and he took a closer look.

    “Where did you see this, Ayoo’sha?” he asked. She pointed at the ground under their feet and mimed a circular, domed room. He arched an eyebrow. “Was that when... when you went outside?” She tapped a finger to her forehead, in a gesture that could mean ‘I forgot’ or ‘I might be making this up’. Thrawn gazed at the sculpt again, as if hesitating to say more, but she didn’t give him any time to think. She took it from his hand and tossed it indifferently into the furnace, together with the last two pieces that were in the crate, and wiped her hands on her trousers as she watched them burn.

    She held her head high as they walked back to their quarters, as if she expected the sentients they encountered to congratulate her for a job well done. They took a quick shower together and had breakfast, and Thrawn explained to her that the Admonitor would be leaving the next morning. He was only mildly surprised when she nodded in that way that meant that she already knew – she had always had a way of keeping up with what he was up to without asking him any questions – and apologised for the fact that he would be spending his day in meetings. She shrugged indifferently and followed him to the bedroom, and as he slipped on his uniform she extracted his space bag and a pile of neatly pressed military clothes from the closet to begin packing up.

    It was late when he came back that evening and the apartment was dark. He saw that his space bag was now near the door, and he tiptoed his way to the little alcove where the bust of the Screaming Woman stood to add it to his luggage. Ayesha had already prepared the breakfast table and laid out a clean uniform for him to wear in the morning. Her thoughtfulness made him smile, and having checked that everything was in place he slipped into bed, entwined himself around her and went to sleep.

    * * *​

    When the alarm chronometer woke Thrawn up at four hundred hours, he was alone under the covers. He blinked away the last mists of his deep slumber as he swiped his hand on Ayesha’s side of the bed, and felt a pang of worry when he realized that she must have been gone for a while for the sheets to be so cold. He pulled on his jumpsuit trousers hurriedly and rushed to the corner of the kitchen where she usually huddled during her night time episodes. He was surprised to find her all dressed up and ready to go, sitting quietly on a travel trunk near the door next to his space bag. “Why are you up so early, Ayoo’sha?” he asked.

    She stood up and gestured towards the sky outside the window. “Yes, but...” His gaze travelled to the trunk. “Are these things you want me to take with me?” She shook her head, pointed at the space bag and at him, then at the trunk and at herself. He cocked an eyebrow. “You... you intend to come with me?” he asked incredulously. She gave him a startled look, as if it were the last question she had expected. He frowned. “This may not be a good idea, Ayoo’sha. This mission will not be safe. As a matter of fact, it may very well turn out to be an all-out war.”

    She shrugged in her I-don’t-care way and sat back on the trunk. “Ayoo’sha, please. It will be much safer for you here.” She shook her head stubbornly. He took a deep breath. “Please listen to me,” he started.

    She sprang to her feet, interrupting him, opened his luggage to extract her Fijisi wood self-portrait and put it on the table, then sat on the trunk again and laid a proprietary hand on the space bag. Thrawn sighed, but there was that twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

    “You are the most wilful, the most headstrong, the most obstinate creature in this Galaxy,” he murmured as he cupped her face in his hands to kiss her. “I truly hope that my crew never find out that you are hauling me around by the nose, or there will be hell to pay.”

    ---------------------------

    Note: The "renovation of parts of the fortress" that Thrawn mentions early in this chapter is the construction of the various defences and obstacles that Luke and Mara will encounter in VotF on their way to the cloning room.
     
  8. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Wow, the military campaign sounds a serious one. [face_thinking]

    I too was hoping the funerary observance and the wonderfully serene trip to that mircaulous sounding stream would work a literal miracle. A mixed bag of good news/bad news in that Ayesha still feels she needs to hold herself to blame. I am not surprised at all that her grief continues, would be astonished if it did not.

    But the good news is the artsy projects seem to be picking up and have a focused theme. Happy that the kids get their toys too. I love the fact that visits from friends continue.
    Fascinating that there is a dichotomy representing influences and experiences with things that brought light and those which brought sorrow, darkness, and tragedy. The trip to the incinerator!!!! That feels most cathartic of all. [face_relieved]
    The Fijissi sculpt she was working on against the deadline - SQUEE! Just.
    @};-

    This:
    “You are the most wilful, the most headstrong, the most obstinate creature in this Galaxy"
    Ah, the personality resemblance to Mara strikes home. [face_laugh] Just another reason for uber!love! LOL :)
     
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  9. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    It was late when he came back that evening and the apartment was dark. He saw that his space bag was now near the door, and he tiptoed his way to the little alcove where the bust of the Screaming Woman stood to add it to his luggage. Ayesha had already prepared the breakfast table and laid out a clean uniform for him to wear in the morning. Her thoughtfulness made him smile, and having checked that everything was in place he slipped into bed, entwined himself around her and went to sleep.

    Her thoughtfulness is sweet & her stubborn loyalty rather touching. I hope this campaign will fare well for them both, even though I have a bad feeling about it.

    At least I am glad that she underwent some sort of art therapy. =D=
     
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  10. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    30: Oh man, it's so tough to see poor Ayesha in this state—I wonder what, if anything, will finally snap her out of her self-imposed "silence strike." And then to have it punctuated with these terrifying moments where she's wailing and screaming... just shivers. This is seeming very much like the potential first phases of the Uumana stage. :(

    It's encouraging to see that, when she does start dealing with the grief, she does so with her preferred art form of wood sculpture—that shows us that some of the old Ayesha is still lurking in there. But shivers there too, both for the riveting realism of the sculpt and what she does it with it—she turned it, her own sculpted portrait of her brother, into that brother's own funeral pyre! :eek: An intense tribute indeed, but in its way exemplary of the kind of artistic intensity has always been a trademark of hers. It is heartening in a way to see so many other beings taking part in Rumpy's funeral, which testifies not only to Rumpy's heroism and loyalty but also to the fondness with which these denizens of the Unknown Regions no doubt remember our heroine. Glad, too, to see the Qom Qae reappearing to pay their tribute to the deceased.

    31: And the silence and nightmares and erratic behavior continue... :( But again it's encouraging to see the art therapy continuing with this new project of the sculpts of light and darkness centered around the two Fijisi-wood Lovers (and of course I recognize them from those telltale physical traits of the scar and bulging vein). It's interesting that the joyous, light-filled sculpts are all of specific beings Ayesha knew and loved, while the more ominous, dark sculpts are of no one in particular. Which seems like a double-edged sword: do the Light sculpts win out because they're identifiable (suggesting that their impact on her was ultimately deeper), or do the Dark sculpts win out precisely because they represent so many horrible unknowns? [face_thinking] Again, as with the sculpt of Rumpy's death, it was difficult to watch her burning all those pieces she had put so much work into—but if it really will help her root out form her soul the evils that each of those represents, then it'll be worth it. And it was sweet that she was able to use her skills to make such beautiful playthings for the Fel boys, too.

    The sculpt showing the body in the water beside the furry, lizard-like creature is something I'm going to file away in my mind—"furry" and "lizard-like" together is putting me in mind of [hl=black]Vergere (which I really, really keep wanting to spell with a grave accent, Vergère) and other Fosh[/hl]. I wonder too [hl=black]how big or how small that floating, deformed body may have been[/hl]. Once again, I expect that your answer to my "[face_thinking]" will be "[face_whistling]," but that's all right, I'll just be patient and read on. :D

    This is certainly one very ominous mission Thrawn's embarking on, and I bet it's here that [hl=black]those pesky YV[/hl] will reappear. Once again there's his insistence that she stay out and her persistence about coming along—which brought a bit of a smile to my face because it reminds me so much of earlier instances and shows that the old, stubborn, and very courageous Ayesha is still there. If past performance is any indication, Thrawn will not be sorry he brought her! :cool:
     
  11. divapilot

    divapilot Game Winner star 4 VIP - Game Winner

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Chapter 27: The Tremor
    Tashi’s loss is such a sadness, coming so close to Onion’s death and for such a cruel and unnecessary way. The decision for Simon to relocate to Naboo is a wise one – I think he will have a positive impact on many young doctors he might encounter in the next chapter of his life. (thank you for that continuity!) I love how he says he “needs to be alive again.”

    Loved the conversation with Artoo. He’s such a loyal droid! Not surprising that he stays loyal 30 years into the future.
    But then – the crash of the ship onto what seems to be the residential area where Tam and his family live – oh no! Ayesha’s losses are coming so fast that she can’t process them. Who could?

    Chapter 28: Flight



    Sigh. Stupid fate. Now I see why she was reluctant to have Luke deal with her issues. Her mind must feel like a hotel room with one after another stranger just showing up and helping themselves to the towels and bath items. Poor Ayesha – knowing that if she hadn’t gone to see Luke, Mira and Tam and Kal might have survived. But then again, they might not have. Still, Ayesha seems to see herself as a bearer of tragedy and naturally blames herself.

    Chapter 29: The Swarm

    Noooooooooo! :eek: :_|
    That is the saddest thing I have read yet. Another person has gone from her life. Her family is wiped out. Who is left now? Thrawn of course, and Doctor Cottle, and maybe LaRone will come back?

    Chapter 30: Silence

    Beautiful description of Rumpy’s funeral. How fitting that all came out to honor him.
    Gorgeous! I can see this so clearly, and it is such an important moment between them. She is a beautiful, luminous soul, and this place of magical beauty and serenity can be nothing but soothing.
    It’s not surprising that she lost her ability to speak. That’s not uncommon in people who have witnessed horror and trauma. But she can still communicate, whether it’s gestures or through her art.

    Chapter 31: Fire
    The sculpts of darkness made me think of Picasso’s Guernica. Twisted howls of pain and suffering. I see now why she made them, so that she could excise them from her life. They will always be there in some way, but throwing them into the fire symbolically releases their grip on her. She is in control; she creates and she destroys them.
    The sculpt of the lovers (herself and Thrawn, I assume) are in the middle of the joyful objects and the painful ones, like the common link between them. It’s odd that everyone else around her is becoming increasingly anxious about the upcoming battle while she is becoming more calm, but then again, she doesn’t follow the schedules and routines of others, does she? I’m confused though as to what the fuzzy lizard thing is and what the heck Cottle has floating in the bacta tank.
    I know Ayesha wants to come along, but she has no idea how dangerous this is. Maybe she feels that she has already lost everything, what more is there to lose? I am really concerned that she is going in way over her head here.

    ALL CAUGHT UP![face_dancing] Fantastic as always.
     
  12. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and for the very thoughtful reviews!

    Chapter 27: The Tremor
    Thank *you* for the wonderful story you gave Simon in that later period of his life! As you know my plan was initially to let him rot in his prison camp and drop out of this story, but The God of Second Chances gave me a reason to bring him back, and I'm happy I did -- seeing what was happening in these chapters with all of Ayesha's friends, I thought it made sense for her to still have someone somewhere in the Galaxy, even if she doesn't get to see him.
    Aah, you know me. I couldn't possibly not have Artoo in this story. I actually wanted him to zap someone, and I had a perfect pretext for it here :p

    Chapter 28: Flight
    Ayesha feels terribly guilty at this stage -- for not seeing that Onion was ill until it was too late, for letting Tashi wander off on her own, and now for thinking of herself before thinking of Kal, Mira and Tam. Deep down she also feels guilty for being somehow associated with the Empire, and angry at Thrawn for not stopping Isard, but instead of turning her anger against him she turns it against herself.

    Chapter 29: The Swarm
    Indeed, the only people she has now are those who are in the Empire of the Hand. She has no reason to return to the known Galaxy now that even her last tie to Kashyyyk has been severed.

    Chapter 30: Silence
    More about Ayesha burning her work below, but I'll say straight away that Rumpy's loss is in a way the last straw for her. She sees all these people around her, but she doesn't really notice them -- the only thing that matters now is not to lose Thrawn, and it was the only thing that could motivate her to "say" what happened, lest he walked away. And yes, since there are some 15 chapters left on this fic, she will start talking again soon -- I can't picture myself writing another 15 chapters of nodding, shaking heads and gesturing at windows :p
    To me it was important that Thrawn shows her that he knows all about loneliness. He was all alone on that planet for years, and a lesser person would have lost their marbles in such a situation. He spent years without talking, because there was no one to talk to -- so he saw a personality in things in order to have an interlocutor, and he wants to share that with her.

    Chapter 30: Fire
    Well, the visit to the jungle planet did work a miracle, because Ayesha started letting things out :) but she still has a long way to go. She is wondering what her place in the universe is, she is struggling with fate and there are many unknowns along her path -- but if the past is any indication, she thinks that there's trouble ahead, and she needs to eliminate it.
    Oh well. You know that Ayesha needs to reach the end of this novel, and that Thrawn needs to reach Bilbringi, so you can be at ease about the two of them at least ;)
    As I said above, Rumpy's loss was the last straw for Ayesha. It's the moment when all of her life before Thrawn is gone, and she needs to wipe it away from her mind, in a sense, by burning what happened to Rumpy, and later burning everything else that she doesn't want to remember. It's a way for her to externalise what she's trying to do inside her mind -- she can't delete the bad memories the way she can burn her sculpts, but at least she's trying to put them to rest. And I'm very flattered that you thought of Guernica, divapilot, because it was my main source of inspiration for this!
    Actually, I can reply in a little bit of detail here as long as I don't make it too gruesome :p The body in the liquid would be something like an oversized foetus, but one that didn't turn out too well. Combine that with the presence of an ysalamir and what Luke and Mara find in a circular domed room in Vision of the Future, and you have your answer.
    Oh, Thrawn won't be sorry at all that she's around -- and that starts as early as the upcoming chapter!
    That would be one way of putting it. A less polite way could be, "she's completely self-absorbed and doesn't take note of the rest of the world" :p -- but in reality she understands full well what's going on...
    ... and that is precisely the reason she insists to go. She has her reason (singular, not plural) and she will soon tell Thrawn as much too.

    Thanks again all! Next chapter up straight away.
     
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  13. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.

    Note: This takes place nearly 20 years before the YV invasion of the known Galaxy, so any differences between Vong biotech as described in the coming chapters and what appears in the NJO can be attributed to the fact that there were further developments in-between (oh, and also, I wasn't going to re-read the entire NJO series :p)

    -----------------------------------

    Chapter 32: The ambush

    Ayesha could sense that the atmosphere aboard the Admonitor was definitely more alert this time around. The officers seemed constantly ready for battle and the analysts’ section, where she had spent so much time on her first trip, was now the equivalent of a war room. The creepy painting and the ovoid sculpt from Sernpidal that Thrawn had shown her on Coruscant had pride of place on the wall, the black seed she had taken from Vagar Praxut was suspended in its magnetic capsule in the middle of the table, a collection of datacards with every titbit of information they had about the Far Outsiders was carefully classified on a shelf and there was always a star chart on display, highlighting the worlds where the invading aliens might have set foot at one point or another. At Major Lasall’s insistence, Thrawn often took her along to the strategy meetings. She didn’t participate much, but she stood up every now and then to point at a system in the chart, or to trace a line indicating an itinerary, then she sat back on her chair, as if her conclusions were obvious, while they stared at her with a puzzled look.

    The Admonitor rendezvoused with the Discipline in orbit above Matta Thryne – the Grey Wolf was still engaged in its campaign against Nuso Esva – and Matt and Valeria came aboard to finalise the details of the operation. It was agreed that the two Star Destroyers would split up and circle the edge of the Galaxy in parallel during the first phase of the expedition. The Discipline had conducted a long exploration mission over the past year-and-a-half, and there was an extensive list of worlds that Thrawn hadn’t visited yet – either worlds that had stated their desire to join the Empire of the Hand, or potential enemies. The Admonitor’s itinerary was designed so as to allow for at least a flyby of several of these planets, and Matt’s crew started transferring data and artefacts to Thrawn’s ship.

    The two task forces parted ways a few days later and the slow journey to the edge of the Galaxy began. There was little for Ayesha to do – Valeria had already provided a comprehensive analysis of available information about the worlds that the Admonitor would visit, and the stormtroopers of the Hand of Judgement were on active duty and unable to spare more than a few hours for her every other day. She spent most of her time on her own in the training room, or alone in the admiral’s private quarters, gazing out of the viewport. When not in hyperspace, the sky was populated with dozens of Troukree and Talz ships that continuously conducted training drills, and she admired their speed and efficiency as they zoomed in and out of view while the Admonitor’s TIE fighters and clawcraft arced around them, like birds flying away from a fountain. There were even a few times when she witnessed space battles. Valeria’s evaluation turned out to be spot-on, and the species she had identified as hostile invariably sought to attack Thrawn’s forces, but more often than not it was all over before it even began.

    “These guys didn’t stand a chance,” LaRone told her on one of his visits as they watched the last of the landing craft rise from the planet that they had just conquered to return to the docking bay. “They have no idea what an Imperial Star Destroyer can do, and they can’t possibly match the Grand Admiral’s tactics. The more I see him in action, the more optimistic I am that this campaign will end with a resounding victory.”

    Ayesha gave him a small smile and showed him her crossed fingers. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders reassuringly. “Don’t worry. He just looked at this species’s art for a few minutes, and when we dropped out of hyperspace he had them cornered within minutes. He’s spent months – no, years – studying the Far Outsiders. He knows what he’s doing.”

    Thrawn had laid out some ground rules for Ayesha when they had come on board. She wouldn’t accompany him on planet if the world had been tentatively identified as hostile, and she would also remain on the Admonitor if the world’s atmosphere required a breathing apparatus for Humans. Between his admiral duties and his trips away from the Admonitor, she saw him very little. She accompanied him to the bridge a few times – they had agreed that she could stand behind his command chair, and she stayed there silently to observe the crew at work – but she felt that she was constantly underfoot, and a few weeks into the expedition she took to joining Doctor Cottle in the med lab. There was always a steady stream of injured troops after the battles – most of them with nothing more than a nasty scratch or a burn, but there were a few concussions too and, once, a Chiss pilot who had had to eject from his clawcraft and suffered from vacuum exposure – and the doctor was happy to have an extra pair of hands to complement his small contingent of medics and droids. Ayesha put on her best smile and brought the patients their meals and medication, changed their bacta patches and took their messages to their friends. In the early days, the fact that she didn’t talk attracted a few odd looks, but her work with Cottle enabled her to get to know the crew, and after a while all she saw was friendly smiles wherever she went aboard the ship.

    The day finally came when the Admonitor settled in orbit above a world named Viezoth that had filed a formal request to join the Empire of the Hand when Matt had visited a year or so earlier. Valeria’s report was clear and concise, as always, but Ayesha could sense her friend’s enthusiasm for the place behind the formal words that scrolled down on the datapad’s screen. The Viezothans were an equine species that lived a nomadic lifestyle in the southern hemisphere of their planet, where the climate was colder, and there was a note in the report about their rich tradition of oral poetry, for which they would hold public contests both in their native language and in Minnisiat. They were obviously not a spacefaring race, but they had established an outpost for offworld traders, and they would come there in herds to barter the fruit of their harvest in the steppes for medicine and the few manufactured goods they had any use for.

    Ayesha had taken good note of the date for that visit – she had been confined to the ship for nearly a month now, and she was becoming restless. She woke up at the crack of dawn and Thrawn smiled when he found her sitting in the small lounge of their quarters, dressed in a jumpsuit and boots with her fur cape from New Alzoc by her side. He came and offered her his arm in the regal gesture that made her feel like a princess. Her worried look when she saw that he was wearing nothing but his uniform made him chuckle. “You forget that I am a son of Csilla, Ayoo’sha’nek. The weather we are heading to is my natural environment, so to say.” He tugged at his sleeve to show her the layer of thick fabric underneath and winked. “I have also taken my precautions, of course, but today I need to display my full admiralness.”

    Thrawn had sent the flotilla of Talz and Troukree ships that made up the Admonitor’s task force to patrol a sector of space a few light-years ahead, and Ayesha had a clear view of Viezoth the moment the Baratta and its escort of dropships left the hangar bay. The continent where they were headed consisted of a mountain range along the eastern and southern coast, while the rest was a vast expanse of green and white – forests and flatlands covered in snow. As they approached the traders’ outpost, she noticed that the area around the landing pad was strewn with what appeared to be black boulders that hadn’t been there in Valeria’s holos. She turned to Thrawn and frowned.

    The Grand Admiral’s thoughts seemed to mirror her own as he stared at the landscape, his eyes glittering with concentration. “Pilot, did you conduct a sensor scan on the way down?”

    “I did, Sir,” Quiller replied, pulling up the results on the main monitor. “Nothing past the bow and arrow stage. All the readings I get are rock, water and lifeforms.”

    His answer didn’t seem to comfort Thrawn. He held a brief whispered conversation with Niriz, and the Captain remained aboard the Baratta, together with the stormtroopers from one of the dropships, while the other four squads escorted the Admiral outside. LaRone fell into step next to Ayesha and gave her a warning nod. She nodded back and, as soon as they reached the open expanse where the meeting with the community leaders would take place, she leaned over to check that the miniature ryyk blade hidden in her boot was easily accessible.

    A four-legged, two-armed equine alien with brown fur came trotting along and directed Thrawn to a throne-like chair on a round platform that was slightly raised above the ground. Ayesha and Sergeant Prashat stood behind him on either side of the chair, and LaRone and Grave took positions on the edge of the circle while the stormtrooper contingent formed neat rows to the left and right. She took in her surroundings carefully. There were more Viezothans in the distance – it was a group of foals, apparently, and they were playing joyfully and gambolling about, oblivious to the world around them – but the mood of the delegation of elders that was marching towards them was entirely different. There was a sadness, a tiredness to their step, their fur was flat and dull, and as they walked between the black boulders that were scattered along the alley, she thought that she saw them close ranks. But before she could contemplate the oddity of their behaviour any further, all hell broke loose.

    The boulders rose in unison, revealing tall, human-shaped aliens in black armour whose faces were scarred beyond disfigurement. The one closest to the platform whipped out a long, snake-like weapon and lashed it towards Thrawn, hitting him squarely in the chest. He raised his arm again, whirling the red serpent in the air, and brought it down towards the Chiss once more – only, this time, to find Ayesha’s ryyk blade in the way. The fanged head of the weapon – she realised that it was alive – lost its aim and landed on Thrawn’s shoulder.

    She barely had time to notice in the corner of her eye that the scene had descended into chaos. There were dozens more of the towering aliens, all wielding the strange, serpent-like weapons against Thrawn’s men, and the stormtroopers’ blaster fire was rebounding on their armour without even leaving a scratch. LaRone fell to the ground as one of the snakes entwined itself around his ankle, and he started shooting desperately at his attacker to prevent him from coming closer. The commotion pushed Grave off the platform, but he didn’t lose his cool and he was targeting the aliens with his sniper rifle, trying systematically to find a gap or a weakness in their armour. One of the Viezothan elders lay eviscerated where he had been when the attack started – the poor sentient had found himself in the way of one of the armoured aliens, and he had paid the price for this misfortune.

    A second alien warrior joined the one facing Ayesha, and she could only jump and bow and twirl like a dancer to avoid them as they sought to take her down. She held her ground, standing between them and Thrawn, but her small ryyk blade was a laughable defence in this situation and she was sweating profusely under her fur cape. She took advantage of a pirouette to let the garment slip off her shoulders, and she managed to throw it in the face of one of her assailants as she came around. The other’s serpent grazed her chest, and she felt the fangs tearing her tunic and lacerating her flesh with a sharp burn – the creatures must be poisonous, she thought. She took a step back and steadied herself, trying to focus on the task at hand, when her concentration was broken by a thundering rumble.

    A herd of white Viezothans arrived galloping and circled the platform to keep the enemy at bay, bolting on their rear legs to shove their front hooves in the attackers chests and kick them to the ground. Within seconds, several of the equids had been torn apart and disembowelled by the serpent weapons, but the diversion, however short, enabled the Imperials to regroup. “Target their faces,” Ayesha heard Grave yell over the din of the battle. “Only the faces aren’t protected, target the faces.”

    The blasts of the E-11 rifles multiplied in a deafening crescendo, and Ayesha saw several of the armoured aliens collapse, their heads blown away by the stormtroopers’ blaster bolts. Her two assailants had scrambled to their feet and one was towering above her already. Without thinking she hurled her dagger at him. The blade buried itself in his chin, releasing a flood of jet-black blood on his armour, and he crumpled to the ground.

    She found herself defenceless in front of the second warrior, who was now readying his serpent with an abominable snarl. She prepared to duck, wondering how she could get hold of a weapon without leaving Thrawn’s side, when a red laser beam flew over her shoulder and hit the alien between the eyes. A fraction of a second later, Prashat was at her side. “We have to go, Ma’am. There are more of them coming.”

    The surviving Viezothans gathered and left at full gallop as a line of black-armoured shapes appeared in the distance. Ayesha turned back to Thrawn. He was still immobile on his throne-like chair. Two bright red stains had spread on the dazzling white of his uniform, one from the top of his left shoulder, the other right in the middle of his chest, until they melded into one. “No,” she croaked. “No, no, no!”

    * * *​

    The rhythmic beep of a heart monitor and the sickly smell of antiseptics and bacta told Thrawn that he was in a med lab. The dull ache radiating from his ribcage told him that he had been wounded and, when he tried to move a hand to the source of the pain, he found that his left arm was strapped to his chest and let out a groan. “Welcome back to the land of the living,” a voice whispered in his ear.

    Deft fingers removed his breathing mask and replaced it with a small oxygen tube clipped under his nose. The warm contact vanished for a moment. A few drops of water then moistened his lips and a soft cloth wiped his face. “What happened?” he rasped.

    The fingers were now running through his hair. “We were ambushed by the Far Outsiders during our visit to Viezoth,” the whisper said. “You were badly wounded but you’re okay now. Just take it easy, the sedative is wearing off but you’re not all there yet.”

    His eyelids felt like lead as he tried to open them, revealing the dull orange glow of his eyes. The face of his interlocutor slowly came in focus. “Ayoo’sha?”

    She gave him her most radiant smile. “I’m here, Qubshi be-khadeeb. I’m here. How are you feeling?”

    His right hand prodded his chest. He winced in pain. “Like a fool who got involved in a wrestling match with a wampa and lost. Where are we?”

    She smiled again. “You’re such a show-off,” she said. He cocked an eyebrow. It made her laugh. “All right. If the eyebrow is back, then you’re okay. I’m not quite certain where we are, actually. Aboard the Admonitor for sure, but other than that, I don’t really know, somewhere in interstellar space. Captain Niriz can tell you when he comes over.”

    Thrawn closed his eyes again. “Can I have some water?”

    She activated the headrest to lift him up and rearranged his pillows. He felt a plastoid straw press against his lips and seized it eagerly. “Just a sip,” she said. “I know you’re parched, but you were in the bacta tank for two weeks. You need to go slow.”

    The door to the little cubicle slid open and Doctor Cottle walked in, followed by a Chiss medic. “The lady said just a sip,” the doctor barked in his gruff manner, but there was no mistaking the relief in his voice.

    Thrawn’s lips twitched. “Some things never change,” he muttered. “How long will you imprison me, Doctor?”

    The Chiss medic lifted his eyelid, enabling him to glimpse Cottle rolling his eyes. “I told you we should’ve kept him sedated for another day,” the doctor grunted to Ayesha before turning to him again. “Listen, you stubborn nerf-herder. I’m keeping you here for as long as I want, and then you’re getting proper bed rest in your quarters for as long as I say. You got that?” Thrawn chuckled. Cottle glared at him. “And I’m authorizing Ayesha to use all necessary means to distract the pile of bantha fodder you have for a brain and keep it off work.”

    Thrawn glanced at Ayesha. “At least that should not be too unpleasant.”

    The Chiss medic, who had been struggling hard to suppress a smile, let out a chuckle, and Cottle sighed in exasperation. “Admiral, if I hear one more word from you I’ll put you under again. Now let me examine you and then go back to sleep.”

    “Do I have a choice?”

    “Shut up,” the doctor barked. “Just shut up.” He activated the overhead scanner and read carefully the results scrolling down the monitor, then unfastened the brace holding Thrawn’s left shoulder and manipulated the arm tentatively. Thrawn winced. “How bad? On a scale from one to ten?”

    “Six, perhaps seven,” the Admiral said tightly. “I should be able to get up tomorrow.”

    “Sir, warrior’s fortune nearly deserted you,” the Chiss medic said. “I do not want to scare you, but –”

    Cottle strapped Thrawn’s arm back in place. “You do want to scare him, Irang. Listen to me, Admiral. You had your shoulder smashed and your heart was nearly torn out of your chest. Surely even a headstrong roogak like you can understand what that means? You’re staying here.” Thrawn went to object but Ayesha placed a finger on his lips. “We had to perform reconstructive surgery on your heart and your arteries and we kept you in full bacta immersion for ten days. Your life was and is still hanging by a thread. If you want to survive this, and if you want Ayesha to sleep at night – hell, if you want her to sleep at all – you’re not getting up from that bed until I’m satisfied that all your wounds are healed. And if you want your arm to be of any use to you in the future, you’ll do as I say. So for once in your life, will you follow a good doctor’s advice instead of whatever heroics that Chiss mind of yours is conjuring up?”

    Thrawn’s eyes, that were slowly returning to their usual red glow, moved to Ayesha. He finally noticed how tired she looked. “Please,” she whispered. “Just do what Doctor Cottle says. I don’t think I can take many more scares like those you gave us these past two weeks.”

    Thrawn’s gaze moved back to the doctor. “Fine. May I see Captain Niriz?”

    “No,” the doctor said firmly. “Not as long as you’re in my lab. You’ll rest here for a few more days, and you’ll see the Captain once you go back to your quarters. I’d kick Ayesha out if I could but she’s even more stubborn than you, and that’s saying a lot.” He took a deep breath. “Did I make myself clear?” Thrawn nodded. “Good. Irang will change your drip and Ayesha knows where to find painkillers if you need a shot.” He walked to the door. “Oh, and, Admiral.” Thrawn looked up. Cottle gave him a warm smile. “It’s good to have you back.”

    There was a long silence as Irang adjusted Thrawn’s medication and checked that everything was in place before giving the Admiral a crisp salute and leaving the cubicle. Ayesha let Thrawn take another sip of water, then lowered the headrest and dragged a chair near the bed. He went to talk again but she interrupted him. “You go back to sleep now,” she whispered in Cheunh. “I’ll tell you more about what happened when you wake up.”

    She sat back in her chair. They were both dozing off when his eyes suddenly snapped open. He lifted his good hand off the mattress and reached for her. “Ayoo’sha...”

    Her entire body jerked. “Is there something wrong?” she asked worriedly.

    Thrawn stared at her for a moment. “You are speaking,” he finally said.

    She smiled and pulled her chair closer to rest her head against his on the pillow. Her fingers stroked the japor snippet around his neck. “Yes. I am. Now sleep.”

    -----------------------------

    Note: Viezoth and the Viezothans were created for the purposes of this story. I'll write up a fanon post about them as soon as I find the time.
     
  14. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Super duper action! =D= I couldn't tell any discrepancies in the YV weaponry or tactics. Whew, an ambush indeed. I know the Viezothans didn't have a choice but go along with springing it. :eek:

    Whew, that was a close one with Thrawn's injuries. But it catalyzed Ayesha's return to speaking again. @};- But [face_rofl] oh, Cottle! He is a true and utter treat! [face_mischief]
     
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  15. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Well, it's great to hear Ayesha talking again—that was definitely an unexpected way for her to regain her desire to speak, but hey, it worked! What a harrowing battle, full of close calls for both Ayesha and Thrawn; kudos to Grave as well for his quick thinking. Thrawn's injuries are certainly horrifying, and even with bacta I'm almost worried he won't come out of this whole, though there's no doubt he's in good hands with Cottle and Irang (is Irang in the official lore somewhere?). I feel especially sorry in a way for those Viezothans, since they didn't seem to even stand a chance against the YV ambush; I hope we'll hear more from them and that maybe they'll be able to join in fighting back in some way. (Are they canon, too?)

    In a way I'm excited about the new phase the story seems to be entering, because ever since the issue of the Yuuzhan Vong first came up in this story. I have been wondering about Ayesha's role in fighting them and/or communicating with them, whichever it ends up being, perhaps both. (I still wonder if she'll be able to meet the artist of that freakish living painting from so many chapters ago!) :cool:
     
  16. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for reading and reviewing!
    The poor Viezothans are in far more trouble than even Thrawn knows with the YV having taken hold of their planet. But the poor things didn't stand a chance -- being this peaceful, agro-pastoral society, they simply don't have the means to push back the invaders.
    :) This is one of the first scenes I wrote with Cottle, and that's when I decided to borrow the character from Battlestar Galactica. Imagining him having to deal with Thrawn as a patient was just too much fun to miss!

    I really, really need to catch up on endnotes to my chapters and to update both my OC Index post and my Fanon posts [face_blush] Irang is an OC and the Viezothans are one of the species I created from scratch -- there's actually very little in Legends about species from the Unknown Regions, and given the remoteness of the area I thought that there should be both technologically advanced societies and very primitive societies out there. I'll try to discipline myself and do some clean-up/updating in the not-too-distant future, and yes, we will see more of the Viezothans in upcoming chapters, or rather what's left of them.
    The next few chapters are all about the YV, so I hope you won't be disappointed :) But before we get there, it's time for a mush break, because it's been a while since we did that. Enough with the drama already!

    Thanks again to everyone who stopped by to read. Next chapter up asap!
     
  17. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.

    --------------------------------

    Chapter 33: Recovery

    Cottle released the Grand Admiral to return to his quarters after nine days during which Thrawn seemed to do everything within his power to drive the medical staff crazy. “I’m discharging you because a shouting match in the med lab would be bad for my other patients,” the doctor growled as Ayesha helped Thrawn pull an undershirt over his immobilized shoulder on the second morning of New Year Fete. “But I expect you to continue behaving like a patient, not an admiral, until I clear you to return to the bridge. Do I have your word?”

    Thrawn nodded. “Not good enough,” Cottle snorted. “I want to hear you say it. Do I have your word of honour, here in front of Ayesha, that you will not overdo it?”

    Thrawn looked at Ayesha, who was now slipping the sleeve of his uniform jacket on his right arm. “You have my word.”

    The doctor turned to Ayesha. “What I said about using all available means to distract him from work still stands.” Her lips curled into the familiar mischievous smile as she pulled the other side of the jacket over Thrawn’s wounded shoulder. The doctor chuckled. “You have a one-track mind, lady. Yes, including that, provided that there are no acrobatics involved. Now get him out of my sight before I kill him myself. It’d be a shame to see such a good surgery go to waste.”

    Ayesha led Thrawn across the med lab. He caught a glimpse of a child-sized shape in one of the cubicles and stepped in to see Rukh hooked to a series of monitors. His head and upper body were encased in an orthopaedic shell, there were several drips in his sinewy arm and a breathing tube had been inserted straight into his chest. “He was almost decapitated during the ambush,” Ayesha whispered. “Doctor Cottle was able to fix his neck, well, mostly at least, but he still has a long way to go.” She shook her head bitterly. “I didn’t even know that he was with us, he was so discreet. But the Far Outsiders, they knew. As soon as the attack started, they launched these razor-like bugs towards him and took him out. They were expecting him, and they feared him.” She tugged Thrawn’s hand. “We should leave before he wakes up. He feels terribly guilty about what happened to you and I don’t think it’ll be good for him to see you without any advance warning. He may try to jump out of bed or something.”

    The turbolift took them to their quarters and she clicked the comm twice. “You’re having lunch with Captain Niriz,” she said before he could speak. “He’ll brief you while I go and check on Daric and Saberan. They were discharged from sick bay four days ago and I want to make sure they don’t need anything.”

    Thrawn’s eyes were twinkling with amusement. “Did you become the mother avian for the whole ship, Ayoo’sha?”

    “No, I was too busy looking after you, but now that you’re okay I can remind my friends that I love them too, even though I neglected them.” She stood on the tips of her toes, planted a long kiss on his lips and whispered something in Old Kiffar. Thrawn was looking at her curiously, as if expecting a translation, when the doorbell rang and Dagon Niriz stepped in. “I’m giving you one hour, Captain,” she said sternly. “Not a minute more.”

    Niriz smiled and snapped his heels together in a crisp salute. “Yes Ma’am. Your orders will be followed to the letter, Ma’am.”

    She gave him a mock glare from the doorframe. “You’d better. I have Doctor Cottle on my side. You’ve been warned.”

    When she returned a little more than an hour later – LaRone and Marcross were fully recovered and back on duty, and the Hand of Judgement had spent their lunch in the officer’s mess teasing her about being a faithful housewife – Thrawn and Niriz were still sipping on aged R’alla mineral water in the lounge area, discussing the star chart that was displayed on the small table. “Your time is up, Captain,” she said without preamble. “I’m cutting fifteen minutes off your next visit.”

    Niriz laughed and stood up to leave. “With Miss Eskari’s permission, I’ll be back tomorrow, Sir.” He gave Thrawn a military salute, but the Chiss held out his hand. Niriz shook it respectfully. “And let me say once more that I’m really glad to see you up and about.”

    Thrawn was staring at her as she walked back from shutting the door. “What?” she asked.

    “I believe that I might be out of a job, Ayoo’sha,” he answered pleasantly. “You seem to have taken over as Supreme Warlord of the Empire.”

    She started pulling his jacket off his shoulders. “Whatever. Come on now. After all those sonics in the med lab, you’ll probably enjoy a proper shower before we take a nap.”

    She took him to the ‘fresher and bathed him carefully, tracing every one of his muscles with the sponge, then wrapped herself in a towel and patted him dry with another. She had him lie down and propped him up with a few pillows. He was still staring at her while she folded their clothes and put them away. “What?” she asked again.

    There was a long silence. “Captain Niriz told me that I owe you my life,” he said finally.

    She shrugged and came to sit on the edge of the bed. “You owe your life to many people, Qubshi be-khadeeb. To Doctor Cottle, and to Rukh who was nearly beheaded, to Daric who almost lost a limb, to Marcross who got himself a nasty concussion, to Grave who shot a dozen of those monsters off our backs when we reached the transports, to Prashat who carried you aboard, to the brave Viezothans who got eviscerated trying to defend you...” Her voice trailed off. “And to those who didn’t make it,” she added in a whisper. “We don’t even have a body to return to their mothers.”

    Thrawn stroked the bare skin of her arm, sending a shiver down her spine. “Niriz also said that you never left the sick bay while I was there. That you sat and even slept on the floor at the foot of my bacta tank and refused to move until they took me out, despite the fact that you were wounded yourself and could have used a full immersion.”

    She sighed and unwrapped the towel that was still around her body to show him a wide scar across her ribs. “Who’s the mother avian now? It was just a superficial scratch, Irang treated it with bacta strips. The scar won’t even show when it’s completely healed, and anyway I was worried. I wanted to be sure you’d be okay.”

    Thrawn ran his fingertip on the pink line. “I am also told that you spent these last two weeks sleeping on a chair while I was lounging in a bed. The painkillers knocked me out every night, and I did not even realize that you never left my side.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Thank you.”

    She shrugged again. “For nothing. That’s what lifemates do, you know. I should be there for you even when you don’t know it.”

    Thrawn smiled but there was a hint of emotion in his voice. “I am grateful nevertheless.”

    She shrugged once more and stood up to hang her towel from a hook next to the ‘fresher door. “If you insist.” She came to straddle his thighs and let a finger trail from the japor snippet on his collarbone to his navel. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. “ Come to think of it, this may be a good time to express your gratitude.”

    * * *​

    The next two weeks went by in a blur. She accompanied him to the med lab every morning and stayed with Rukh while Thrawn underwent physiotherapy sessions that looked and sounded like torture. The Noghri’s condition was critical but stable, and he could not talk as no air reached his throat, but his eyes spoke volumes every time she came in and sat at his side. There was a day when Thrawn walked in unannounced on the way back to their quarters and Rukh became agitated, trying to sit up in his bed. Ayesha held him back gently. “Thank you,” the Admiral told him simply before motioning for Ayesha to follow him, but the Noghri blinked several times and she began reciting the aurebesh. He blinked twice at some point and she made a note on the bedside datapad before starting over, repeating the process until a word appeared on the screen. She handed the datapad to Thrawn. It read ‘forgiveness’. Thrawn stepped forward brusquely and took Rukh’s hand in his. “If my forgiveness is what you want, you have it. However, you should know that you also have my respect. Now get better. That is an order.”

    She usually had lunch with one or another of her friends from the Hand of Judgement, and sometimes with Soontir Fel, while Thrawn conferred with Niriz. The sense of relief on the Admonitor was palpable now that the Grand Admiral could be seen wandering around the ship, even though he hadn’t returned to duty yet, and more than once she had to fight back tears when some crippled trooper came to her in the corridor to ask her to pass on to Thrawn wishes for a prompt recovery. Niriz had been briefed thoroughly by Cottle and made sure he never overstayed his welcome during his visits. He was always on the way out when she opened the door, or even came to fetch her from the mess if her lunch dragged on. She could see him contain a smile as he escorted her back to her quarters. “What?” she asked him once. “What’s so funny?”

    “The Grand Admiral is one lucky bastard,” Niriz answered as they reached her door. “And you can tell him I said that, I’m sure he says it himself when no one is listening.”

    She found Thrawn lounging on the little sofa and repeated the Captain’s words as she sat at his side. “He is absolutely right, and in more ways than one,” Thrawn replied without hesitation. “I doubt any of the other Grand Admirals had so many loyal subordinates who put their lives on the line for them. I am certain none was blessed with the grace of a luminous creature such as you. And yes, I whisper that to myself when you have your back turned.” His fingers crawled up her thigh as his eyes took the phosphorescent glow of desire. “Now if you will please help me take my clothes off, I will demonstrate the one aspect of my luck Niriz does not know about.”

    Thrawn’s craving for her seemed even more instinctive and primal after the long months following Rumpy’s death when she had shunned her own body, and their afternoon showers invariably ended in bed. “Slow down, Qubshi be-khadeeb, slow down,” she told him as he tried to pull her closer with his good arm. “We have the whole afternoon and night ahead of us, and this part is my department until further notice.” Sometimes she gave him a teasing look and merely lay at his side to watch him squirm with impatience. “I'm actually enjoying this, you know,” she whispered in his ear. “I like having you at my mercy. Maybe I should tell Doctor Cottle to take it slow on your rehab so that I can make this last.”

    There was an afternoon when he held her back when she went to roll off to his side. “Stay there, Ayoo’sha,” he murmured. “Please stay there. Let me enjoy this illusion that, for a few stolen moments, you and I are one.” He was half-lying, half-sitting against the headboard and she leaned carefully on his chest, resting her head on his good shoulder as he wrapped his arm around her. There was a long, comfortable silence. “Are you using any contraception?” he asked.

    “No,” she whispered. “No, I’m not.”

    The smile that lit up his face was soon wiped out when he felt her shudder. “What is it, Ayoo’sha? Is there something wrong?”

    She sighed. “The reason I’m not taking contraceptives is that I don’t need them. Doctor Cottle said...” – she took a deep breath to steady her voice – “he said that I’ll probably never be pregnant again. Not after what the Emperor did to me.”

    Thrawn’s hand moved up to cradle her head as he pressed his lips to her temple. “Did he say ‘probably never’ or simply ‘never’?” he asked after a pause.

    She sighed again. “He said ‘most probably’. He said it would be nothing short of a miracle. Not that it really matters anyway. We shouldn’t even be discussing this.” Thrawn pushed her up gently to look at her and arched an eyebrow in question. She averted her eyes. “You’re fighting a war, Thrawn. You’re fighting a terrible war. Now isn’t the time to talk about babies.”

    “There is no better time to talk about babies. Among so much death, we should be talking about life.” She was still avoiding his gaze. He placed two fingers on her cheek and pulled her face back towards his. “What is it that you are not telling me, Ayoo’sha?”

    “I don’t think we should have children or even adopt,” she breathed in a nervous whisper. “I don’t think it would be reasonable. You waste too much of your time already looking after me when I lose my marbles.” He went to interrupt her but she silenced him with a finger on his lips. “A child should have two parents who are healthy and whole, and I’m neither. For us to have a baby... it wouldn’t be fair for you, and it wouldn’t be fair for the baby. It just wouldn’t be right.”

    He stared at her with his unreadable expression, making her feel very awkward and uneasy. “Are you as upset as you look?” she mumbled.

    There was another long silence. “Do you love me, Ayoo’sha?” he asked very softly.

    “How can you even ask that, Thrawn? You’re everything to me. Don’t you know it?”

    Thrawn’s lips twitched. “I do know it, but as I have told you before, it is nice to hear it again from time to time.”

    She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him passionately. “I love you, Qubshi be-khadeeb,” she said in Cheunh. “I love you more than anything, more than you’ll ever know. You’re my life and my light and my joy. You’re the reason I get up in the morning and make it through the day. You’re my friend, you’re my lifemate and you’re my family. I love you and I’m yours, now and forever.”

    Thrawn pulled her back to him. His hand was trembling on her shoulder as he held her tightly to his chest. “Then nothing else matters, Ayoo’sha. Do you understand? Nothing else matters.”

    --------------------------

    Note: As of this chapter, we are in 8 ABY.
     
  18. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Ah so that's a mush break. I love it! Loved the support from Niriz and Thrawn's gratitude to him, Ayesha, and Rukh. :D Absolutely adored the talk at the end. :) There's a depth of openness and sweetness. [face_love]
     
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  19. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him passionately. “I love you, Qubshi be-khadeeb,” she said in Cheunh. “I love you more than anything, more than you’ll ever know. You’re my life and my light and my joy. You’re the reason I get up in the morning and make it through the day. You’re my friend, you’re my lifemate and you’re my family. I love you and I’m yours, now and forever.”

    I wish RL would be like that. Anyway, I am glad they found each other again after all that they have been through. They are truely blessed with one another.
     
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  20. divapilot

    divapilot Game Winner star 4 VIP - Game Winner

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Wow, what an ambush! The poor natives have nothing to use to defend themselves. It must have been a bloodbath.

    Thrawn barely made it out with his life. The sight of him sitting there, motionless, with the blood soaking his white uniform sounds horrifying. But it made Ayesha stronger, and it seems to have given her a purpose and a resolve. Of course, now they know the brutal monsters they are up against.
     
  21. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    It is indeed harrowing to imagine Thrawn so horribly injured—and Rukh, too, and all those who fought back so bravely. I do hope that all will be all right, and I'm so thankful they're in such good hands. Though I hope that Rukh, like Ayesha, will eventually get his voice back!

    Lucky that Ayesha managed to get by with "only a flesh wound" and was able to be there so attentively for them. She could certainly run the Empire of the Hand if she wanted to—she wouldn't be at all bad at it! And the fact that Thrawn able to participate so actively in all these... activities with Ayesha certainly seems to bode well for his return to health (though Cottle's warning about "acrobatics" is still a wise one!).

    It's interesting to see the baby discussion returning again, this time in much sadder form. Alas, Ayesha has a certain point about fairness to the baby. :( But I'm still drawn back to that image of the dead embryo-like form floating in the water, as well as the baby Ayesha saw in that vision of hers so long ago, and those things are making me think that, even if these two can no longer actually bring a baby into the world, somehow the baby story isn't quite over for them yet... [face_thinking]
     
  22. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing!
    Scoop: Ny likes mush. I think we need to post an official announcement in fanfic resource :p [:D]
    Frankly, I wouldn't want my RL to be like that. Losing everyone you hold dear until you're left with only one person to love is very much my idea of a nightmare :( But of course it's good they have each other.
    Indeed, now they know who their enemies are -- this is the first time they actually see them in the flesh -- and they also know that the enemy has been observing them. Finding out how and where is a tale for another time, but that's a story I might write some day.
    Oh, Rukh will definitely get his voice, and everything else, back. He needs to be available to stab Thrawn in Bilbringi after all ;)
    Hehe. If Ayesha were in charge of the Empire of the Hand, she'd probably turn it into a giant charity with toy-producing factories on every planet :p
    My answer to that will be [face_whistling] [face_shhh] Are you surprised?

    Thanks again, everyone! Next chapter up straight away.
     
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  23. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Tags: AzureAngel2 Findswoman Gemma K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Mando-Man Mira_Jade Raissa Baiard
    Please let me know if you would like to be added to or removed from the tag list.
    And as usual, a big thanks to Nyota's Heart for beta-reading.

    --------------------------------

    Chapter 34: The battle of Viezoth

    When Thrawn was finally cleared to return to the bridge – his shoulder had considerably improved, and his arm was now in a light sling – he was greeted by a standing ovation from the Admonitor’s crew. His cool, calculating demeanour wavered for a second under the thunderous applause, and he gave the assembly a small bow before walking down the stairs to the starboard crew pit and coming to a halt in front of Sergeant Prashat, who had been assigned to the grav field monitor during the Grand Admiral’s convalescence. The young man gave him a shaky salute. “Permission to speak freely, Sir,” he said. “Or rather, permission to say two words.” And before Thrawn could answer, he bellowed, “Welcome back!” to another round of applause.

    Thrawn gestured to Niriz to activate the intercom so that the entire ship could hear him. “I am told that you ignored and even breached your orders several times while on Viezoth, Sergeant Prashat,” he began sternly. “That instead of standing by me and seeing to my needs, as an orderly should, you quickly deserted my side to ensure the safety and well-being of several lesser-ranking members of this crew.” There was a stunned silence. A smile touched Thrawn’s lips. “I am further told that the said members of this crew owe you their life. By all accounts, had it not been for your quick thinking, the team that fell victim to the ambush would not have made it back to the transports, let alone to this ship. You not only carried me to safety, but you then went back and rescued many more of our friends and colleagues who were so badly injured that they could easily have been left for dead, and you did so at great personal risk. As if all this were not enough, you were inspired to gather samples of our enemies’ weaponry before boarding the Baratta yourself, including an entire set of body armour. All in all, it is only fair to say that your actions deserve an exemplary punishment.” He paused. “It was a pleasure working with you for the past several years, but in light of recent developments, I believe that I need a new orderly.” He held out his hand. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Prashat. I wish you all the best in your new career as an officer of the Imperial Navy.”

    The cheering across the Admonitor was deafening as Ayesha stepped forward and pinned Prashat’s rank bars to his chest. The newly-minted lieutenant blushed crimson when she kissed him warmly on both cheeks. “This is too much,” he mumbled. “I was only a sergeant.”

    “It isn’t enough,” she countered. “I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll see you sitting over there.” She pointed at Thrawn who was making his way to the command chair. “But in the meantime, I’ll settle for seeing you at lunchtime in the officer’s mess.”

    The hubbub on the bridge died down as Thrawn gave a soft cough in the intercom. “Men and women of the Admonitor,” he said, now speaking in his cool voice, “the time for rejoicing is over, and the time for war has come. When we left Coruscant nearly five years ago, many of you were under the impression that you were being unfairly punished and exiled with me. You understood over time that this exile was a sham and that we had one, true mission: to pacify the Unknown Regions in order to protect the citizens of the Empire from the many threats lurking in these uncharted territories. We have now encountered the enemy that the late Emperor had foreseen.” He paused for a moment to let the words sink in. “The survivors from our trip to Viezoth have no doubt briefed all of you on the nature of this enemy. These beings, these Far Outsiders, are an extra-galactic race who are driven to conquer and destroy our Galaxy and our civilization. As we learned the hardest possible way, the invaders have already started drifting into these parts and it is likely that Viezoth is but one of their outposts. At this point, we, the Empire of the Hand, are the only force standing between this impending invasion and the population of the known Galaxy. Whether this population is still under the authority of the Empire or has surrendered to the Rebellion matters not. There is no alliance to be expected with the Far Outsiders, no respect and no mercy. Should we fail, they will sweep from planet to planet and maim, enslave and kill until the world as we know it is gone forever.” He surveyed the grim faces of the bridge crew. “I cannot overstate the weight of the responsibility that rests on our shoulders. We shall not fail. Many of us will pay the ultimate price to keep the Galaxy safe. Let me simply say that we should not regret giving our lives. The fate awaiting our homeworlds and our families is much worse than anything we may face in the afterworld should this invasion come to pass.” He paused once more, observing the crewers’ expression shift from concern to determination. “We will rendezvous with the Star Destroyer Discipline and both of our task forces eighty parsecs away from Viezoth to annihilate the foothold of the Far Outsiders in that system. We will then proceed to the edge of the Galaxy where their fleet is amassing, and we will blast them into oblivion. I expect every man and woman aboard this ship to display the dedication, loyalty and competence that I have become accustomed to in the years that I have had the privilege to serve with you.”

    He turned to Niriz, who was standing at his side. “Is my flagship ready, Captain?”

    “The Admonitor is fully at your command, Sir,” Niriz replied formally.

    “Then proceed with the jump to lightspeed. May warrior’s fortune smile upon our efforts.”

    “And may the Force be with us,” Ayesha whispered behind him.

    * * *​

    The starlines flared through the mottled sky and shrank back into stars as the Admonitor dropped out of hyperspace above Viezoth and found itself facing a small armada of fighter-sized, roughly triangular spacecraft with a dark canopy. Without hesitation, the alien ships turned their snout-like noses towards the Star Destroyer and gathered in an attack formation as the Discipline and the two task forces appeared around Thrawn’s flagship with a flicker of pseudomotion.

    “Report,” the Grand Admiral ordered coolly from his command chair.

    Niriz scanned the information fed to his monitor by the various specialist teams in the crew pit. “One hundred and ninety-six enemy fighters, Sir. Design and specifications unknown. They are not jamming us but our sensors seem unable to identify their propulsion mode and weaponry. All we read is rocks and lifeforms.”

    Thrawn’s eyes swept the scene beyond the viewport carefully. “Launch our TIE fighters, Captain. They are to form a screen in front of the larger ships, which are in turn to form a screen in front of the Star Destroyers.” He turned to the ship-to-ship comm. “Did you copy that, Captain Ruud?”

    “Loud and clear, Sir,” Matt’s voice came over the loudspeaker. ‘I take it that the task forces are to keep them busy while we smash their base on the ground?”

    “Correct.” The TIE wing shot out of the Admonitor and spread out ahead of the Imperial fleet. “Turbolasers: commence planetary bombardment. Do not stop until the crust is breached and the magma spills over. I want that planet turned into a furnace.”

    “Aye aye, Sir,” Niriz replied grimly.

    Ayesha’s small hand tightened on the command chair’s armrest. “Now is not the time, Ayoo’sha,” Thrawn said softly. “We have had this conversation already.”

    “I know,” she whispered. “Just ignore me and do what you have to do.”

    They’d had a heated discussion during the trip through hyperspace as the fleet made its way to Viezoth. “What about the Viezothans?” she asked angrily when he explained how his plan would unfold. “Some of them got themselves torn apart for us during the ambush. We owe them a life-debt, and you're going to go there and slaughter them all?”

    “Ayoo’sha, the Viezothans are dead. They are already as good as dead. You heard Doctor Cottle’s conclusions from the autopsy he performed on the body Prashat brought back. The Viezothan was implanted with these coral-like seeds whose purpose is to turn him into a drone.” He wrapped his good arm around her, stroking gently the Zygerrian brand on her shoulder. “You have had your own, terrible experiences with enslavement of the body and the mind. Surely you can understand that this qualifies as a mercy kill.”

    She shuddered. “It’s a sentient race, Thrawn. A whole sentient race. You’re going to wipe them off the face of the Galaxy.”

    “I truly wish things could be otherwise, Ayoo’sha. As things stand, I do not have the resources, the manpower and the knowledge to rescue an entire population from this type of subjugation. All I can do is fight this war for other races to be spared the Viezothans’ fate.” She sighed and stared blankly at her hands. “War is a terrible thing, Ayoo’sha,” he whispered. “Sometimes all you can do is plough ahead and hope that you do not lose your soul along the way.”

    Ayesha was pulled out of her reverie by a blinding explosion outside the viewport and looked up just in time to see several TIE fighters blossom into a cloud of luminous dust. The chatter of the pilots was flooding the comm. “My shields are down,” a panicked voice screamed. “They’re all over me! They’re –”

    There was another explosion and the communication was cut, leaving the noise of static echoing across the bridge. “Wing Commander Fel, do you copy?” Thrawn called. “Report. What is your assessment of these fighters?”

    “They’re extremely advanced craft, Sir,” Fel’s deep voice said. “They’re fast, they’re agile and their weapons spit a fire unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like molten lava. And they’re disabling our shields, but for the life of me I can’t understand how.”

    “Do you identify any weaknesses or likely weaknesses that your pilots could exploit?’

    “Negative, Sir,” Fel answered tightly. “Our sensors don’t come up with much. We can’t even figure out how they communicate. And there’s this gravitational anomaly around them. Our laser bolts seem to vanish into a black hole.”

    “Sir, we also detect a gravitational anomaly coming from the planet itself,” Prashat piped up from the console where he was sitting. “Is it possible that this technology somehow relies on manipulating gravity?”

    Thrawn’s eyes were glittering with concentration as they went from the monitors and holo displays to the space battle unfolding outside. “Locate the source of that anomaly for me, Lieutenant,” he suddenly snapped, as if making up his mind. “TIE fighters, disengage. Turbolasers, suspend planetary bombardment. All ships, direct saturation fire at the enemy fleet on my mark.” He took a deep breath. “Commander Fel, tell me what you see.”

    The TIE fighters arced in all directions, circling gracefully around the alien craft that were regrouping for an assault on the Imperial capital ships. “Mark.” The deep black of space suddenly erupted in an aurora of laser beams as the Imperial fleet began firing. “Fel? Anything?”

    “They’re scurrying about like a herd of womp-rats,” Fel said dryly. “And they’re not absorbing our fire so well now. I suspect that manoeuvring their craft at these speeds pumps too much energy off whatever it is they have for a shield.”

    There was a silence while the fireworks continued outside. “Fel? Are you there?” Niriz asked.

    “Aye, Sir. Just checking something.” There was another silence. “There’s this black... thing on their underbelly,” he said hesitantly. “It’s pulsating like a heart or something.”

    “Target it,” Thrawn ordered. “All ships, hold your fire. Make way for the TIE fighters.” He turned to Prashat. “Any progress, Lieutenant?”

    “Feeding the coordinates to your station now, Sir,” the young lieutenant replied crisply.

    There was a victory whoop over the loudspeaker. Niriz zoomed in on the tactical display to see several enemy craft drifting in space. “We have them, Admiral,” Fel said. “Knocking out that black heart with a torpedo disables them altogether. I’m requesting reinforcements to finish wiping them out.”

    Thrawn allowed himself a tight smile as he unfastened his arm sling. He laid his hand over Ayesha’s, whose knuckles were now white from clutching the armrest. “Captain Ruud, launch your fighters to assist Commander Fel and his men.”

    “Yes, Sir. Shall we resume the planetary bombardment?”

    “There will be no need, Captain,” Thrawn said mildly. He keyed the intercom. “Squadron Commander Stent, launch your clawcraft and microjump to the coordinates I am transmitting now. Scimitar Assault Bombers will follow. You are to destroy whatever is there, as deeply buried as it may be.” He switched back to the ship-to-ship comm. “All ships, deploy, encircle and trap. You have turbolasers, you have proton torpedoes and you have tractor beams. I want no survivors to escape and I want at least one enemy craft to study. Try to get it intact.” He turned to the army officer standing behind him. “General Tasse, prepare your troops for a ground assault. We might be able to save the Viezothans after all.”

    Three hours later, the space battle was over and landing craft had started taking off from the Admonitor’s central hangar bay and manoeuvring through the debris of the rock-like fighters to reach the surface of the planet. Thrawn stood up. He staggered slightly and leaned on Ayesha’s arm to walk over to Prashat, who was focusing unwaveringly on his monitor. “Good call, Lieutenant. Keep it up and you will have your own command before this campaign is over.”
     
  24. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host Who Loves Fanfics & RPGs star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb action with the streamlined observations and reports and quick decisive actions by Fel and Prashat. Thrawn in command/strategy mode is unparalleled. [face_love]

    His concise and rousing speech at the beginning :cool:

    And yayness on Prashat's promotion. :)

    The Admonitor crew's spontaneous welcome of Thrawn - you can tell a fine leader by the loyalty they inspire. [face_love] :D
     
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  25. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    When Thrawn was finally cleared to return to the bridge – his shoulder had considerably improved, and his arm was now in a light sling – he was greeted by a standing ovation from the Admonitor’s crew. His cool, calculating demeanour wavered for a second under the thunderous applause, and he gave the assembly a small bow before walking down the stairs to the starboard crew pit and coming to a halt in front of Sergeant Prashat, who had been assigned to the grav field monitor during the Grand Admiral’s convalescence. The young man gave him a shaky salute. “Permission to speak freely, Sir,” he said. “Or rather, permission to say two words.” And before Thrawn could answer, he bellowed, “Welcome back!” to another round of applause.

    I like the warm welcome that Thrawn received here. You write him more than a being than a simple bad guy. This is why the story hooked me in the first place. You gave him some Spock like character traits, which also works for me very well. Thanks! @};-
     
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