Title: Ice over Embers Author: Mechalich Timeframe: Late Dark Times ~2 BBY Characters: Sahala (OC), Darth Vader, Last GenoHaradan (OC) Genre: Fall 2020 OC Challenge - First-Line Edition (#7) Keywords: Vahla, Darth Vader, GenoHaradan Summary: This is a short combat sequence, featuring Sahala, a Force Adept of the Ember of Vahl and member of the Coruscant Revolutionary Front who appeared briefly in "A Slight Difference in Leverage." Notes: This story is directly connected to "A Slight Difference in Leverage" and also to the greater 'Nemaverse' series of stories. The unnamed character who appears at the end here will also appear in "A Drop in the Bucket" and associated stories. Ice Over Embers His voice had never sounded so cold. In person it bore not the least resemblance to the holos, those myriad government announcements featuring that face. Properly it was not even a voice; every bit of that audio emerged from a machine that translated nerve impulses, not the long-ago incinerated vocal chords, but this made no difference. Mechanical or no, it was a voice. A pure conduit of will, blighted frigid emanation utterly beyond the scope of Sahala’s experience and knowledge. Colder than ice. Colder than liquid methane. Chill that resounded back from the terrible far future where the goddess lay dead and all the embers of the universe had been snuffed out and black holes reigned alone over the frozen nothing. That voice was a conduit, a harbinger, beckoning from that terrible distant fate, one proclaiming its inevitability with unflinching resolve. She shivered before it. Every muscle fiber and nerve ending sought to burst free of her skin and abandon all in flight. “Your fear consumes you, how piteous,” spoke the terrible ice wind prophecy that was Darth Vader. His black mask shifted, turned to the side ever so slightly, a critically revealing handful of degrees. “If you are willing to listen to it, perhaps you might survive a little longer. Stand aside,” he offered, magnanimous in towering cruelty. “And I will strike you down another night.” Somehow these words spread a smile across Sahala’s pale face. “You Sith never could understand us properly.” She drew herself up to her full height, happy that in doing so she could look Vader’s lightless orbs straight on, no need to bend her neck. “Fear,” she recalled the words from her very first day of training, a phrase her mother taught her. “Is fuel. Fuel feeds the fire.” All the fear, all the terror, every palpable instinct that screamed at her to run, she gathered them all and poured them down upon the glowing ember curled at the dark core of her smoldering soul. Gave it all to the Force, let deep breaths power it to towering whorls of fury. Blue flames burst into being along her knuckles. They raced up to her fingertips, enveloped her hands in burning cloak. “Only a fool wouldn’t fear you, but fear won’t hold me back.” With an unforgettable snap-hiss the Sith Lord’s lightsaber sprang to light in the dark corridor. “Then I shall teach you despair.” He took a single step forward in answer. Howling wordlessly, a screaming demon birthed by flame, the Vahla threw herself at the darkness. Blue flame connected with red plasma as Vader deflected the first punch with almost effortless ease. Rage kept the fire burning, protected the fingers beneath though it drained her. Sahala fed fury into the flame with every breath, refused to consider hesitation, fatigue. She’d fully expected the first blow to fail. Such an obvious attack had no chance against his guard. What she’d hoped for fled her grasp as he pivoted perfectly poised. Saber blade shifted just sufficiently to force her left arm aside, spin the follow-up strike pointlessly past his shoulder. With a cartilaginous skeleton that gave her impossible flexibility compared to a human, she ought to be able to serpentine a strike through any defense, but Vader refused to be outmaneuvered. Nothing perturbed him, ruffled his stance. He knew exactly how to move, how to stand, how to stop. The result was impenetrable. Blue fists rained down at him, a dozen strikes from as many angles in the space of a second, each move flaring and crackling. Not one did more than strike sparks off the lightsaber’s blade. Instead, Sahala found each counter pushed her back. Swift and limber as she was, it took every whirling spin and kick she knew to keep ahead of the terrible ruby brand in the black fist. Somehow, imperceptibly, inexorably, inevitably, Vader kept gaining tick after tick of leverage with each block and riposte. And he was so strong. Muscles bound to cartilage could not match those tied to bone blow for blow, but long limbs and flexible footwork normally made up this deficiency. Flood the field and prevent a breakthrough, the Vahlan style Sahala knew every last trick to unleash. Well-taught and hard-earned, her repertoire never dried up, and she’d stood over the bodies of half-a-dozen Inquisitors as proof. Vader, she discovered with eyes wide and a spreading icy pit devouring her stomach, was nothing like those pawns. No whirling circles, no frenzied dancing, none of that highly visible wastage for him. Just pure power projected precisely. Each blow smashed down with glacier force, a thunderous controlled detonation of countless tons of ice. Her limbs rang and quivered with every impact. Desperate, she gathered every fragment of rage, of strength, into one; a decade of Imperial betrayals, oppression, and scheming had ruined her people, an endless supply of grievance to channel along with her whole body mass behind a single dual-hand strike. Burning blue limbs blasted forward with terrible speed, a wave of molten heat led them, directed at the glowing panel on the dark lord’s chest. Vader’s feet shifted. His limbs twitched once, easily, almost casually. With a straight parry he blocked her head on. Rage burned through Sahala. She screamed and let all the blackness pour out. Strength pulsed through in great waves, rippled from toes to fingertips. A massive surge to launch her upwards, strong enough to throw a speeder skyward. The black hole is the undisputed master of gravity, the swallower of stars. Vader flexed his shoulders. Just that, the least bracing effort, stopped Sahala’s grand effort dead. Contempt made him mighty in the dark side, unconquerable. With blatant disregard for any threat his left hand abandoned the hilt of his weapon and bent it toward Sahala, palm up. A bantha charge, horn-first, slammed into her chest. She flew backward, blasted with liquid force against the durasteel door, flattened against that barrier she must secure, and slumped to the plates below. Limbs twitched and her lungs stung with every wheezing gulp of air. Pain raced across every centimeter of surface, inside and out, a symphony of wretched aches played through her muscles. The eyeless sockets of the Sith Lord looked down upon her now, silent judgment upon her fallen form. He need not speak. Sahala could feel the sneer without any guidance from the Force. The simple motion conveyed maximum disrespect. Born of combustion. Chosen by the goddess. Sworn to the flame. She was Vahla to her core. Hopeless though it was, her pride refused to die lying on the cold metal below. It, and it alone, put one knee beneath her frame. “I may burn out,” she squeezed out the words between grasping gulps. “But I’ll not be quenched.” Chest muscles nearly rebelled in agony at the strain, but she pressed a deep draught down into her lungs. Stole another as Vader took his steps forward slowly, leisurely pace condemning in its disrespect. His first mistake. You never leave a fire behind until you’re certain it’s out. Even single spark can reignite to inferno. Sahala remembered the old litany, origins lost in the tragic past of her people. She took strength in it now. “Fear is fuel,” she soaked herself in the terrible visage of the oncoming foe. “Hurt is heat.” She let free the shrieking of her nerves, white-bright the star within. “Origin is oxygen. I am the Ember of Vahl.” Hands reached up to face. Long nails dug into pale gray flesh. And tore. Blood ripped free from jagged wounds. It spilled into the air. There it ignited. A corona of brilliant blazing beads to orbit about her, host of her wrath. “Burn! Burn! Burn!” Sahala shouted each syllable, let everything loose at once. Hands swept forward in a great, furious wave. Flames followed. “Feed the vengeance of the goddess!” Droplets joined together, streams of fire leaped across the gaps, merged and redoubled with every twining, until a great breath of deadly crackling gas in endless shifting colors howled in column down toward the Sith Lord. Darth Vader did not duck. He did not block. He did not jump. He raised his lightsaber high and pushed his right shoulder forward into the face of the storm. Through the whirlwind of the unleashed conflagration Sahala could discern only one signal, one thing at all. The single spectral glow of the crimson lightsaber blade. All she had she hurled against it, every memory, every slight, and every last shard of hate her blighted core could summon, molten force demanded of the dark side enough to immolate the whole Inquisitorious. She dispatched it all against that shimmering sword. It never wavered. Her knees collapsed. Breath left her lungs. The flames died. The lightsaber blade burst free in an instant. It shot forward, a hurled missile, aimed perfectly at her skull. A last desperate surge summoned the blue halo to her fingertips, kept her hands raised. The saber pierced clean through both palms. Brilliant ruby edge sliced apart the moist cloud of her gasp not a centimeter from her nose. The light vanished, leaving Sahala to stare in horror through open space in the center of her hands. A whistling sound split superheated air. Then the snap-hiss spoke once more as the terrible weapon returned to the hand of its merciless master. She saw that his cape had burned away to nothing, but all beneath it gleamed shiny black and unharmed. Stuck to the floor, without the strength left to even raise her head, Sahala could not feel her hands. It did not matter. She had no need to see anymore. She could hear every step of descending doom as his strides advanced upon her. “You have strength,” Vader noted. Considering his calm, he might have been seated on the bridge of a Star Destroyer, thousands of guards between him and any enemy. “It is easy to see how you could kill an Inquisitor, but you lack direction. The likes of you can never be more than a tool.” She ought to have spat defiance at him. That would be the courageous thing, the Vahlan thing, but all efforts measured too much in that moment. The steps paused. The end marked. The door behind her opened. Darth Vader’s descending lightsaber rebounded with crackling static against the bubble of a force field. “An effective tool,” a voice emerged from nowhere. In its own way it cast itself a chill equal to that of the Sith’s. Not the frigid hardened malice of energy consumed to nothing in unwavering grasp, but rather the uncaring view of the endless universe beyond that watched. Vader battered the force field. A storm of electrical discharge and the lightning-echo scent of ozone filled the air. A handful of seconds it delayed him, no more, but long enough for a man in a form-fitted suit of body armor jump through the door, pick the Vahla up with one arm as if she weighed nothing, and vault back beyond. From beyond the shelter of the portal, he paused a moment as the field collapsed. “Seventy-two seconds delay beyond the minimum demand,” this specter with only red lenses for a face covered in an otherwise featureless mask announced without any indication of emotion. “Acceptable.” “Do you think to stop me?” Darth Vader demanded as his glowing blade crashed through the last grasp of the energy field. The cyborg cradling Sahala did not answer directly. “The younglings are one hundred levels down, a clean escape,” he summarized. “As predicted, Vader diverted to attack you upon discerning your presence.” “If you believe technological trickery will save you from the power of the dark side-“ Vader began. His left arm rose. “It’s managed for thousands of years so far,” the lack of fear in the man who held her terrified Sahala almost as much as the Sith Lord’s vengeance. “Do not think that Sith are Coruscant’s only hidden terror,” he remarked. “Or that any of the others care for your precious Empire.” The heavy durasteel door slammed closed before the black glove curled into a fist. Lightsaber tore through it within seconds, but that was more than enough time for the empowered frame of the cyborg to whisk them far beyond reach in the labyrinth of the underworld. As he carried her away to a sorely needed bacta tank Sahala grasped through the pain that the fires of Vahl lay trapped between both these terrible mechanical monsters. She did not think her flames would ever reach either one. The wise fear the GenoHaradan no less than the Sith.