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Saga "Your Heart Will Catch Its Breath Again" | SBSN Mod!Challenge; Song!verse AU; Darth Maul & Mara Jade

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mira_Jade , Feb 8, 2023.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The (FavoriteTM) Fanfic Mod With the Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Title: “Your Heart Will Catch Its Breath Again”
    Author: Mira_Jade

    Genre: General (Drama, Action, Angst, Fluff, Crack Treated Seriously)
    Time Frame: 16 years post-RoTS; AU, my Song!verse
    Characters: Zaed (Darth Maul), Mara Jade/Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker/Padmé Amidala, Leia Skywalker, Ezra Bridger, OCs

    Summary: While accompanying the Jedi on a diplomatic mission to Abeexis III, Darth Maul confronts who he once was – and who he now wishes to be.


    Notes: A long time ago, in a Something Borrowed, Something New Mod!Challenge not so far away, I received a prompt from my fellow authors that had the potential to be awesome. Unfortunately, DRL got the best of me, and I didn't post this fic in time for the challenge. Even so, the idea has stuck with me, so much so that I now have an entire short story to share when I first intended a vignette. (I know, I know - who's surprised? :p 8-}) That said, while this story is not completely written, I do have a fair bit typed out and ready to go. My goal, at first, was to practice restraint and finish the entire WIP before posting for fear of having yet another incomplete story floating on the boards . . . but I just couldn't resist. So here I am, diving right in with all incorrigible temerity. [face_mischief] [face_batting]

    That said, this story is set in my Song!verse - a series of stories where, and I quote: Anakin Skywalker was not dumb and Sithy and didn't turn to the Dark Side. In this series, Darth Maul has also rather diverged from his canon self. He goes by his birthname of Zaed now, and an unlikely friendship with Mara Jade has helped him along a somewhat grudging path to redemption (not that he'd call it that, of course [face_whistling]).

    Though you can technically jump right into this fic without any prior reading, the stories Her Still, Small Voice, Blooms in Adversity, and Let Every Little Fracture Shatter, along with the drabble sets Sunlight Warm Upon My Face and How Do We Teach Eyes to Close, Bones to Disappear?, detail the journey Maul (and Mara) have taken in this 'verse thus far. [face_love] The rest of the stories of the Song!verse are included behind the spoiler tag for anyone who may be curious for more. :)

    • “An Old Song, Re-Sung” | The one that started it all! A complete RoTS AU short story where, and I quote: Anakin is not dumb and Sithy. From a certain point of view, at least. [face_mischief]

    • “Her Still, Small Voice” | The sequel to AOSRS. A Mara Jade origins story that is, unfortunately, on hiatus.

    • "Even Without a Voice" | My answer to the 2018 DDC. Ahsoka's companion story to Anakin's, picking up right from her leaving the Jedi Order through just after the subverted events of RoTS.

    • "In That There That Isn't Here" | This is something a little different for me. A Sintas Vel diary I started for the 2020 DDC. This is, as of now, another incomplete WIP, but one that I hope to start up again someday.

    • "All That's Unsung" | A complete short story, set 3 years post-RoTS. Featuring Anakin and Padmé trying to have a date night, and Rex and Ahsoka babysitting the toddler twins.

    • "So Few Things" | A WIP novel, set five years post-RoTS, focusing on Bly/Aayla Secura after the subverted events of Order 66.

    • "Color Me Pink" | A complete, goofy short story written for the 2020 April Fools Challenge, featuring the preteen twins and Mara Jade building their lightsabers, set about 13 years post-RoTS. It mainly focuses on one of my OCs, Rhysa, and her relationship with Ezra Bridger. With bonus married and happy Aayla Secura/Bly on the side.

    • "We Claim Our Own Landscape" | A WIP short story, set about 20 years post-RoTS, where Han meets the parents.

    • "Antigravity" | A collection of short stories written for the 2023 Kessel Run Challenge.

    Then, various odds and ends can be found in “The Rest is Silence”, "Our Love of Constellations", "Cut Into Little Stars", "The Courage of Stars", and "From Such Infinite Space".

    [face_love]


    To see my absolute beaut of a prompt, click the spoiler tag! (Let me just say that I intend to expound on every element as thoroughly as possible. [face_mischief] [face_batting] [face_devil])

    Trope: The Only One Allowed To Defeat You -- from ViariSkywalker
    Dialogue: "It's of cultural importance for bees to have dancing at their funerals." -- from Gabri_Jade
    Words: Exsanguinate, Saccharine, Synapse -- from vader_incarnate
    Random Story Element: First time going out drinking -- from ViariSkywalker
    Picture: -- from Pandora
    [​IMG]


    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. My title is borrowed, with all love and appreciation, from One by One by Elize Ryd and Rickard Söderberg, which is my go-to song for epic encouragement and "you can do it" vibes. :cool:




    Index of Chapters: Part I (below) | Part II






    “Your Heart Will Catch Its Breath Again”
    by Mira_Jade


    I.

    Abeexis III was a world aglow with golden sunlight.

    The planet was striking (beautiful, even), but as this was his first time traveling from his prison (home) on Ossus in sixteen years, Abeexis could have been covered with bogs and stewing in noxious fumes and still be considered noteworthy for its variance from his norm.

    However, Abeexis was not covered in bogs and the air was pleasantly dry and sweet to breathe. During their entry, the plush atmosphere of buttery clouds parted to reveal a picturesque landscape of pale amber mountains and ocher hued forests of deciduous trees. Vast fields of flowers thrived under the heady light of triplet suns and the constant star-haze from Abeexis' inner-galactic celestial neighbors, with violet heartspur and weeping ever-lilies and speckled pinksweets blooming in an ocean of color and scent enough to permeate even the ship’s filtration systems.

    Abeexis, Mara read aloud from the briefing file at Kenobi’s prompting, was known for its exports – its luxury perfumes and precious gilt-stones and rich delicacies of nectar and sugar-combs and honey-wine, all. A Deep Core world with a long history of supplying the elite of the Republic with prized frivolities (Zaed’s reading of the report, rather than its actual wording) made it a planet with some standing in the Senate and thus of particular interest to the Jedi.

    But no, he conceded. Perhaps once, the Jedi would have bowed to the Supreme Chancellor’s request to attend the funeral of the old queen – and subsequent coronation of the new queen – as a mark of the Republic’s favor. Now, the bulk of their delegation owed their attendance to Chancellor Amidala herself, who came, not cloaked in the full dignity of her office, but rather as an old friend of the late queen and the heir apparent, both.

    Then, as for the rest of their party . . .

    Zaed stretched out with his senses – well knowing the strings attached to his relative freedom for the duration of their mission – but felt nothing more than the ambient hum of life and its living echo back to him in the Force.

    No matter, he told himself, there was yet still time. Their hunt had only just begun.

    Despite the clemency he’d been extended, he avoided the common areas of the ship during their journey out of respect for the . . . ill will that some onboard may have borne him. (In no way was he shrinking back from a confrontation, of course, nor was it guilt for his past actions that caused him any sort of hesitation.) It wasn’t difficult to keep to himself with the size of the star-yacht that carried the chancellor’s family and extended delegation. Of all the Jedi who accompanied her, Zaed alone could not be called family – with Kenobi and his aubrett and even the Bridger boy having long since been assimilated into the Skywalker ranks, each in their own way. He could not even be called a Jedi – certainly not, perish the thought – and yet . . .

    . . . he could no longer rightly be called a Sith either (how strange was it, that he felt no desire to be, at that?), and he’d failed to be a lord of anything for far longer still.

    Ruminating on the vicissitudes of fate,” had been his answer when Mara found him alone in the engine room and asked what he was doing.

    It looks to me like you’re hiding.” Ever easy in her own skin, Mara had leaned against a bulkhead and raised a red-gold brow in that soft, pointed way of hers that was ever more observation than challenge.

    I am not hiding,” he’d sniffed in lofty rejoinder. “I have willingly sought the reprieve of solitude – which you are now interrupting.”

    Rather than being scared away (he’d never quite managed to intimidate the girl, nor did he truly desire to do so), Mara lowered herself to sit on the grating next to him.

    “It’s okay.”
    She quirked a wry grin in commiseration. “I still get nervous before missions, too – especially when so much is at stake.” Then, she fell into companionable silence as Zaed attempted to make sense of his thoughts.

    He maintained his equanimity throughout the whole of their deboarding – with his intent to stay on the ship until the last possible moment before falling in behind Chancellor Amidala’s party failing when Mara pointedly glanced at the spot beside her, where she accompanied her master with the rest of the Skywalker family. For his part, Anakin Skywalker grunted as he took his place, his eyes narrowing reflexively, but Kenobi quirked a wry grin and said, “Don’t even think to escape the scintillating pageantry of statecraft that's about to begin. If the rest of us cannot sneak away without notice, then neither shall you.”

    “Really, Obi-Wan,” Amidala herself overheard and interjected, “you may insist that you don’t enjoy the intricacies of diplomacy, but you play the game far too well for anyone here to truly believe you.”

    Should Zaed have been surprised when she turned to him next? Her brown eyes were warm and her expression was serene, but only a fool would mistake that softness for weakness, her serenity for vitiation. If such had been true of her as Naboo’s child queen, it was only all the more so now for Padmé Amidala as a matriarch in her prime as the leader of the free worlds.

    Respect – true and surprisingly ungrudging – had him inclining his head as much as the weight of his memories (that hangar bay from long ago, where those same brown eyes had widened before the Jedi stepped forward as the true knights they were in order to champion the virtuous queen in her quest). Had he recognized her strength of spirit then? Would he have been able to admit it if he had? Either way, he felt the full force of that power now as Amidala said, “Remember that you are here at my behest as much as you are through the wisdom of the Jedi Council.” She spoke, he thought, for the benefit of her own entourage – her aides and advisors and select members of her cabinet – as much she did for his own sake. “I would not have you hesitate to take your place with us when it is one that you have rightfully earned.”

    It was indeed discomfort he felt then – a twisting of something bone-deep that could admittedly be called guilt – but old lessons in deference, dearly learned, served him well. “Your Excellency is too kind,” he bowed his head again to mutter.

    “Kind?” Amidala smiled, her eyes glittering. “Perhaps,” she allowed. “I would say that I am merely interested in the path you are choosing to take – and invested, more accurately.”

    For it was quite the debt he owed, was it not? That debt would hardly be paid by him languishing in solitude, imprisoned for the rest of his days in penance for his crimes against the galaxy. On the contrary, the Republic could yet glean some reparation if . . .

    “It is my hope that your investment may yield a generous return.” Once, he would have sneered the words, but now . . . well, they merely were what they were. He found, he started to realize, that he even meant them truly.

    “Your hope is mine as well,” Chancellor Amidala approved, and that was that. At a discreet gesture from Sabé – who ever watched him with a considering eye on behalf of her lady – Amidala faced forward again. The Abeexian welcoming party was upon them, and she turned her attention to greet their spokesperson with the practiced ease of a lifelong diplomat.

    Zaed did not miss how Mara smiled – how Skywalker huffed, and Kenobi thoughtfully stroked his beard – but turned his own gaze to settle on their hosts. So far, his senses could pick up nothing that wasn’t benign – the warmth of the sunshine; the scent of the flower fields wafting up from the valley below; the pale amber mountains and the looming hex-comb formations that framed the ornate tunnels leading down to the Abeexians’ prime hive of Apis – yet their quarry was one who had made an artform of hiding in plain sight. He could make his home in the light as well as the shadows, yet to no indefinite avail – for Maul knew his tricks just as well, and he refused to let his former master escape the Republic’s justice any longer.

    A burning torch turned on the night or a shadow cast from the light – it made no difference to him; he would simply be whatever he was needed to be in order to finally bring about Darth Sidious’ defeat, once and for all.



    .

    .

    The rooms they were shown to were hewn from the same hex-comb that comprised the whole of Apis. The walls appeared to glow with a pulsing light from within, and ornate reliefs carved into the seemingly living wax told strange stories whose meaning he was not privy to understand. Chancellor Amidala and her family were housed in a suite even more ornate than this one, he’d glimpsed before their party separated, and Zaed was both relieved for the reprieve of distance and the familiarity of his fellow travelers.

    The Jedi (and whatever he could be called in relation to them) occupied this adjoining suite. They each had separate chambers, but shared a single common room . He was not uneasy in his surroundings – never that – yet he could admit that the wealth of luxury extended to them by their hosts was something that he was . . . unaccustomed to, to say the least. He had always lived in austerity – the Master would never groom an Apprentice in any sort of comfort, after all – and his self-abnegating beginnings had been all but decadent compared to some of the harsh lows he’d experienced after being cast aside and abandoned by his Master. Even as Lord of Mandalore, he’d kept to his subjugated people’s preference of a more spartan existence, and though the Jedi had extended all consideration to him in his prison, it most certainly was not . . .

    . . . well, it was not this, he reflected as he attempted – and failed – to sit with a straight posture on one of the deeply cushioned couches in the conversation ring.

    Mara and Ezra looked easy enough in their surroundings, at least – and of course Kenobi did as well. Though perhaps he had the better of it; instead of taking a seat for himself, he circled the sitting area with his hands loosely held behind his back. From there, he went about instructing the young ones who were his pupils for the duration of the journey.

    “Abeexians, commonly known as Bees throughout the galaxy for their similarities with the lesser-sentient species of the same name, are a race of insectoids. Their society is eusocial, with a haplodiploid system of gender determination deciding each Abeexian’s caste and role in service to the hive at birth. Each hive has a queen, who is primarily responsible for – ” but Ezra Bridger’s voice cut off with an exaggerated sigh as he slumped back against the couch, the datapad in his hand theatrically cast aside. “Master Kenobi, we already know all of this. Why do you want me to read this again?”

    “Knowledge feeds wisdom,” was Kenobi’s mild answer in return. “Do you consider yourself sufficiently wise already, Padawan Bridger?”

    Zaed fought not to smirk for Kenobi’s words – pleasing as it was for the Jedi’s sharp-edged wit to be turned on someone else for a change – as Bridger clearly hesitated, sensing the trap awaiting him.

    “About this subject . . . um, yeah,” Bridger searched for the answer that would set him free from what he considered to be an odious task. “I think I’m wise enough – sure, definitely.”

    “A mark of true wisdom is knowing that we shall only seek enlightenment without ever fully attaining it – it’s a lifelong quest,” Kenobi counseled with a practiced ease that must have come from once having Anakin Skywalker as an apprentice. “Please, carry on so that we may all strive for enlightenment together.”

    “I thought I was taking a break from all this stuffy Jedi stuff when I got away from Master Caleb for this trip,” Bridger muttered under his breath.

    “I’m sorry, Ezra, but I didn’t quite hear you – what was that?”

    “Nothing,” Bridger hurried to amend. “Nothing at all, Master Kenobi.”

    “Wonderful.” Kenobi’s sharp eyes – and ears – missed nothing. “Read on, if you please.”

    Resigned to his fate, Bridger glumly picked up the datapad and continued, “Abeexians, like many insectoid species, possess an exoskeleton, which protects them from the stellar radiation levels common in Deep Core worlds such as Abeexis. Although bipedal, they have four arms and a dual set of forewings and hindwings. Abeexians primarily use flight for conveyance, but they are also capable of walking quadrupedally with a pronograde posture. They have a head, thorax, and an abdomen that ends in a stinger. On their heads, they have mandibles; a retractable proboscis for feeding; antennae; two compound eyes and three simple eyes, called ocelli, for gathering information on light intensity – ” Ezra blinked. “Huh,” he said. “That, I didn’t know. That’s actually kinda cool.”

    “Well done, Padawan,” Kenobi somehow managed to sound droll and approving all at once. “You have taken another step into a larger world.”

    From there, Bridger needed no further encouragement to continue reading and Zaed let his voice fade to a distant hum in his ears. As had become his habit whenever his body was at rest, his mind wandered and his senses stretched out . . . searching . . . seeking . . .

    Of course, she was aware of his hunt; Mara Jade would ever feel a shadow of the Dark as he did, and she could sense Sidious too, ever lingering but aggravatingly out of reach.

    “Do you feel anything?” she took the seat next to him in order to inquire.

    He hesitated. He had little desire to ever answer his aubrett in the negative, but he was forced to admit in all honesty, “No, not yet.” Even so, his gaze steeled as he stared resolutely forward. “But Sidious would never reveal himself so easily; I hardly expected him to.”

    “It’s strange to think of him here at all,” she admitted. “This deep in the core, everything is so . . .”

    Incandescent with life and light, he knew, with the stars packed so close to each other as compared to the dark, lonely spaces further out in the spiral arms of the galaxy.

    “And to have once hid on Abeexis, especially.” Mara shook her head. “Imagining a Sith on a planet covered in flowers, it’s . . . well, it doesn't quite fit.”

    For that, she smiled impishly up at him, awaiting his reaction. He could admit that the image her words inspired was rather ridiculous. Even as he was now – with gold breaking up the still imposing cast of his tattoos and his eyes a natural shade of earthen brown rather than swimming with fire – he hardly looked like a being who belonged in any place of tranquility, let alone an idyllic one.

    Had he even noticed the flowers on Abeexis when his Master brought him here as the Apprentice? Did he note the beauty of the pastel skies? The sweet scent of the breeze and the chorus of the songbirds as they frolicked in the meadows? Had he seen the awe-inspiring cast of the star-haze as the galaxy put on a stellar show in the night that was never fully night for what it truly was?

    No, he had not. Instead, he had been solely focused on . . .

    “The Vespinae,” Bridger read, unerringly in time with his own thoughts, “are a sentient insectoid race also native to Abeexis. However, while the Abeexians primarily subside on a diet of plant syrups, the Vespinae – ” but his voice trailed off, and he made a face. “Master Kenobi, this can’t be right.”

    “Read on,” Kenobi waved a hand to instruct. “Read on.”

    His expression still fixed in distaste, Bridger continued, “Adult Vespinae subside on sugar-rich plant foods, and by hunting insects of lesser-sentience such as locusi and katydids. Due to their size and the power of their jaws and venom, Vespinae also hunt Abeexians. Adults take nutrients from exsanguination,” but there Bridger paused, clearly revolted. “Exsanguinate means what I think it means, right?”

    “Yes,” Kenobi patiently confirmed, “it does.”

    Gross,” Bridger muttered under his breath, but then dutifully continued, “The carcasses of their victims are then carried back to their nests, where they are subsequently . . . masticated into a pulp to feed their larvae. Eugh, but that’s disgusting,” he broke off plaintively. “Master Kenobi, I don’t think I can handle much more of this.”

    “There are many societies in the galaxy whose way of life is different than our own,” Kenobi hardly humored the boy. “Can we truly say that one is right and another is wrong for being so?”

    “Uh, the one with the exsanguination and mastication and the . . . you know,” he crinkled his nose, “all the rest. That one is wrong, so wrong.”

    “Truly?” Kenobi challenged. “As Jedi, is it our place to judge the rituals and predilections of any species, no matter their deviation from our norm?”

    “Well, no, but . . .”

    “But?” Kenobi prompted.

    Bridger sucked in a breath, clearly thinking the matter through. “It’s different,” slowly, he voiced his conclusion with growing confidence, “when the traditions of one sentient species impose upon the rights of another.”

    “Excellent,” Kenobi nodded in affirmation. “Under the Universal Rights of Sentients guaranteed all citizens of the Republic in its founding charter, the Vespinae’s hunts of old are now considered illegal. Many Vespinae hives live in accordance with these laws and exist in harmony with their Abeexian cousins in our modern age. They have adopted the practice of hunting creatures of lesser-sentience to feed their young. However - ”

    “ - the Luctuosa Vespinae refuse to acknowledge the Republic's authority, and still continue their hunts,” Bridger eagerly interjected. “That’s one of the reasons we’re here. To make sure that both the funeral for the old queen and the coronation of the new queen are not . . . um, interrupted, since – you know – royal Abeexians are particularly sought by the Vespinae as a delicacy for both themselves and their larvae.” No matter the maturity of his conclusions, Bridger still grimaced in disgust.

    “Well done, Padawan Bridger,” Kenobi approved. “We’ll have you grow in wisdom yet.”

    For that, Bridger smiled. “Should I continue reading?”

    “Of course, if you wish.”

    Bridger needed no further prompting, and he dove back into his task with relish. Zaed shook his head at the boy (he was in no way amused, to be sure) and was about to slip back into another resting meditation when –

    – the doorway connecting them to the chancellor’s suite opened, and Luke Skywalker walked through.

    Next to him, Zaed was very much aware of how Mara shifted to make room for the boy – though she needed not, he observed with a frown. There were plenty of couches in the ring, and he’d purposely sat in the middle of one so as to avoid having company entirely – which, of course, Mara had easily ignored for herself. What was more than that, she reached up and tucked a stray stand of hair behind her ear that had slipped loose from her braids – braids which Chancellor Amidala herself had taken the time to plait, just as she did for her own flesh-and-blood daughter – in a gesture Zaed thought was unconscious on her part, but exceedingly apparent to him.

    Mara gestured for him to scoot over, but he stared balefully right back, pretending to misunderstand her. Toothless old monster that he was, she merely shook her head, amused at his obstinacy, and gave up her efforts when Luke came over to half sit, half stand propped up on the arm of the couch.

    Zaed cast a pointed look at the opposite couch, where Bridger sat alone, but to no avail. Mara huffed out a soft breath, yet refused to engage him. Instead, she turned her gaze completely to Luke – who was smiling at her in a stupidly besotted manner.

    Force save him from the courting habits of sub-adult sentients, Zaed fought not to roll his eyes, grateful to have never partaken in such a base social construct himself. This was getting ridiculous.

    “I came over here as quickly as I could – who knew that Bees were so long-winded?” Luke said ruefully in greeting. “Mom is still talking with the queen’s attendant, and they don’t look like they'll finish anytime soon.”

    “We’re not going to see Leia for this whole trip, are we?” Mara shook her head fondly. "Shmiq, either."

    “Probably not,” Skywalker shrugged. “Leia was the one who finally kicked me out – she said that my boredom was distracting her.” He reached up and tapped his temple in the universal gesture for a Force bond.

    Bridger paused from his reading to snicker. “Yeah, it was just your boredom that was distracting her, and no other stray thoughts.”

    Skywalker fixed his friend with a glare – and a not-so-subtle shove in the Force, Zaed thought, feeling the admittedly impressive wellspring of power that was the Skywalker scion’s birthright and legacy flare ever so slightly in pointed warning.

    Bridger, however, was predictably unmoved. “You’re not missing much over here – we’re just going over the briefings Master Sinube put together for the mission. Did you know that Bees have five eyes? I had no idea.”

    “Seeing as how I just spent the last hour with more than a few Abeexians, yeah, I know – how did you not know? We were surrounded by at least a dozen Bees on the way in.”

    “Uh, look around us, Luke – there’s so much to notice! I wasn't exactly pausing to count eyes.”

    “As a Jedi, mindfulness is something we strive for – no matter our surroundings,” Kenobi interjected. “After you finish the report, some focusing meditation may be in order. You will have time to practice tonight at the Queen Elect’s dinner, so that you may be fully prepared to attend tomorrow's ceremonies with all your senses about you as befits a Jedi apprentice.”

    Bridger glared at Luke as if Kenobi’s decision was all his fault, even going so far as to stick out his tongue when he was certain the Master Jedi couldn’t see. Zaed cleared his throat to draw Kenobi’s attention, and for indulging that slight bit of mischief he felt inordinately pleased. (Not that he was enjoying the time he was forced to endure with such company, of course – never that.)

    “On second thought,” Kenobi decided, “perhaps we should start now. Come, Padawan – there is clearly much for us to accomplish in a very short time.”

    With an exaggerated sigh, Bridger got to his feet to follow Kenobi to the line of mats that had been provided in one of the curtained alcoves – undoubtedly in specific consideration for the Jedi by their hosts.

    “Traitor,” Bridger muttered darkly as he passed, but there was something amicable about his voice – teasing, even, as was the boy's default manner with any of his friends.

    . . . his foes, too, Zaed reminded himself. It was surely comfort he found in that thought, and not . . .

    “Should I ever have been considered anything but an enemy?” the words escaped him, quite without his conscious consideration.

    For that, Mara looked back at him – as patient and pointed as ever. “Should you?” she returned. For all that she usually waited for him to reach his own conclusions (she expected so much more of him than he was capable of giving), there was something . . . expectant about her then. Skywalker too smiled, all bright-eyed hope and belief, and for that Zaed scowled in a motion that was at least easy in its familiarity.

    Finally, he turned away from Mara, not bothering to dignify her words with an answer. Stalwartly, he ignored both the girl and Luke – though neither ever truly escaped his attention, not in full – and slipped into a half-conscious state of meditation once more.

    And yet, much to his annoyance, her words pursued him. What was he, if not a foil to the Jedi – a villain by every possible name? He did not . . . he did not know, and that was a thought that accompanied him as he reached out with his senses anew, searching for that old familiar filament sunk deep in the dark of the universe. If they were fortunate, soon that cancerous old spore would finally be uprooted, never to plague the galaxy again once and for all.

    Gladly, when that day came, would he be the one who held the spade – that was a thought on which Zaed as he was now and Maul as he'd once been most certainly agreed.



    TBC

    A Note on "Bees": You guuuuuuys, I know so much about bees now, it's not even funny - so much! (I told you I was going to take my prompts seriously. [face_mischief] [face_hypnotized]) Yes, bees do have five eyes! Did you know that? I most certainly did not! Though the name "Abeexian" is completely made up, "Apis" is the Latin name for a honey-bee, and the Bees we meet coming up may just all have names borrowed from the proper Latin terminology for certain flowers, too. :p

    A Note on the Vespinae: Vespinae is the scientific name for the subfamily of insects known as wasps and hornets. It was such a cool name that I just had to borrow it! Everything Ezra read here is exactly how hornets hunt bees in real life. (Except for the exsanguination - that was all Elli's fault thanks to her prompt. o_O) Hornets are larger and stronger than most species of bees, and have more potent venom and a stinger that doesn't detach once deployed. Though adult hornets feed on plant sugars (if not nectar as bees do), they do attack bees to feed to their young - oftentimes coordinating attacks on entire hives at once! But bees are not wholly without defenses of their own, which we will soon see. [face_whistling]

    A Note on the Luctuosa: Vespa Luctuosa is the most venomous species of hornets in the world. (Asian Giant Hornets are larger, but Vespa Luctuosa have more potent venom - isn't that a thought? [face_plain]) The only more venomous insects are harvester ants and the ant species Ectatomma Tuberculatum (say that five times fast 8-}). We're going to see more of them in upcoming chapters to fill more of my prompts, for obvious reasons. [face_devil]

    Until then! [face_love] [:D]




    ~ MJ
    @};-
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2023
    Kahara, Pandora, Chyntuck and 4 others like this.
  2. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Kessel Run Hostess Extraordinaire star 4 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    AAAAAAHHHHH, YOU SNEAK!! :eek:

    (Okay, now I'm going to go back and actually read it! :p [face_laugh] )

    [:D]

    Edit: I LOVE IT!!! And I'll be back with more comments, but I just love it, it's so good! *throws confetti and gold stars all over your thread*
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2023
  3. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    So cool. I love the references to gold and yellow throughout; the honey-ing of the surroundings. (The end notes are a hoot, too- I can tell you had fun researching this.)

    Great descriptions, great characterization. Classic MJ storytelling!
     
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  4. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    I HAVE TO ADULT BUT I'LL BE BACK AAAAHHHHHH
     
  5. Findswoman

    Findswoman Fanfic and Pancakes and Waffles Mod (in Pink) star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Ooh, yay, we’re in for a treat! Not only do we get to see Zaed and all your Songverse Jedi on a mission together—with a promise of Luke/Mara warm fuzzies—but also THE BEES! :D You managed to work them in, and in a way that makes sense and fits with the universe (and which I can tell is based on an impressive amount of research)! Great job with the worldbuilding—I can’t wait to see the funeral with the dancing down the line (and of course if at any time you’d like to share any of this with the Fanon Thread), please do! The Bridger–Kenobi was priceless—I heard both their voices perfectly and just felt the clash between their two very different approaches to being a Jedi (and of course Ezra’s beastwarden abilities and interests coming through as well). I’m very curious to see how the “only one who can defeat you” trope will play out; I get the feeling that is Zaed in this case, and I am looking forward to his inevitable confrontation with old Palpadidious. So thrilled to see this awesome story posted at last, and can’t wait for more! =D=
     
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  6. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    So I started reading this a few days ago, then I went and read the related stories you linked to, then I came back and finished reading this one, and now I'm back for a review.

    And I have to ask: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME YOU MADWOMAN I HAVE NO BUSINESS CARING FOR DARTH MAUL SO MUCH.

    At any rate, I'm here for the ride and I know that I'm going to love every word of it, so I guess I can get over my initial shock and settle in.

    I'll comment more on the Zaed/Mara dynamic when I go and review your other stories (and probably in future chapters of this one); for now I want to mention two aspects that really stand out. The first one is the worldbuilding. You've done an amazing job here, with the description of the very special light on Deep Core worlds, the natural environment full of flowers, the honeycomb buildings, and of course, the two species – all that research has paid off! As I side note, I love how you seamlessly integrated all that background info in the dialogue and managed to make it very much part of the story.

    The second aspect, and the most important one, both in this story and the related ones, is how you developed Zaed/Maul's personality. He's still very much the same person we all know and love, or love to hate, but you gave him a truly believable opportunity to evolve in this 'verse, and, well, he's changed – although his comments to himself throughout the chapter also show that he's somewhat in denial (by the way, the epitome of those comments was "Force save him from the courting habits of sub-adult sentients", it had me in stitches). It was such a masterful, masterful way to close the opening chapter when you had him bring his two selves together in the same thought, and I'm very curious to see if he'll have the opportunity to confront Sidious as part of his self-professed not-redemption arc.

    *standing ovation*
     
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  7. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The (FavoriteTM) Fanfic Mod With the Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    [face_laugh] [face_love] [:D]

    I don't know why my muse suddenly felt inspired to work on this project during the KR and not in the months before, but eh, who was I to get picky when the words finally did come? :p

    As always, please take your time! I am just so happy to know that you are enjoying this story so far already. [face_love] [:D]



    Aw, thank you! [face_blush] [face_love] I've had so much fun researching and building this story, it's true! Thanks for the kind comment, and I hope that you continue to enjoy the story as it goes. :D

    [:D]



    lololl!!! Take all the time you need! I'm just thrilled you like it already - and just you wait until I get to the bee line! That bit of inspiration was absolute gold, and the entire reason this all came together. ;) [face_love] [:D]



    This is one of those stories that I would have probably never got to tell - or even think to tell! - without having this huge and crazy 'verse laid as a prior foundation! It's so much fun to see all of these elements come together, and that's even before the zany worldbuilding that the prompt inspired!

    Oooh, I should! I have been so remiss with adding to the Fanon Thread over the years! Which is something I really need to fix, because one of the coolest things about transformative works is how they, well . . . transform. I love seeing authors build on each other's sandcastles. :cool:

    Ezra has been an unexpected joy to write in this story! No matter the 'verse, he has such a big heart, even under the goofiness (he doesn't quite have the same edge that living on the streets of Lothal gave him in canon), and, coming up, I had a blast exploring how that empathy would extend to someone like Maul in another subversion of canon. [face_thinking]

    I look forward to being able to satisfy your curiosity soon. [face_devil] [face_mischief] [face_whistling]

    As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave such awesome feedback! :D [:D]



    [face_rofl] [face_rofl] [face_rofl]

    Welcome aboard Feels for Maul flight 2823! As your captain speaking, I can tell you we're expecting all sorts of fun and craziness along the way, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. [face_mischief] [face_tee_hee]

    Thank you! In all honesty, it took more than a few drafts to get that right. I had so much information to deliver, and it was a trick to work that into the story in a way that felt natural instead of just plopping in a thousand words or so of bald exposition. After some fiddling, Ezra provided me with the perfect mouthpiece, and the rest just wrote itself. :p

    And thank you again! That's something I really grapple with when it comes to Maul/Zaed: how do you write a redemption arc for someone who is . . . well, very not-redeemable at first glance, and make it convincing? I've really tried to balance his character, even as I let him evolve, and it's been a fascinating exercise for me as an author! I am really pleased with my results so far and love that others are enjoying Zaed's story too!

    As always, I am honored that you've taken the time to dive into this 'verse and appreciate your feedback! [:D]

    [face_blush] [face_love] [:D]



    Alrighty, the next chapter will be up soon! :D



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2023
  8. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The (FavoriteTM) Fanfic Mod With the Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    II

    Dining with the Abeexian queen elect was an event Zaed was not required to attend, so he did not. Instead, he took his own repast in solitude, turning his thoughts inward even as his senses stretched far beyond his corporal self, searching for a shadow in the dark.

    Finally, Kenobi returned and gave him a slight nod, indicating the Jedi's readiness.

    It was time.

    This deep in the Core, night never truly fell – it couldn’t, as the intense starshine and the rapid slinging of the inner mass of the galaxy around their incumbent super-massive black hole made absolute darkness impossible. The unique constitution of Abeexis’ atmosphere protected the planet from the heat and radiation of the densely packed cosmos, and the mere triplet suns of the solar system – a modest host, compared to neighboring configurations in the parsec – further allowed life to thrive on Abeexis where it otherwise perhaps should not.

    However, scars still lashed the planet from relatively thin spots in the atmosphere, where the land had been baked brittle and dry by stellar storms in ages past. No life could survive in these raw patches of rock but for what existed deep beneath the dead mountains.

    That, of course, was the path they sought.

    “This place gives me the creeps,” Bridger declared, his voice echoing from the filter of his mask. They were all attired in envirosuits as a precaution against the possibility, however slight, of finding themselves exposed to the dangerous atmospheric conditions beyond the tunnels they travelled.

    “Indeed,” for once, Zaed could hardly fault the youth’s blunt summation, even if he couldn’t help but add: “Such ominous feelings of foreboding are what the Sith endeavor to inspire with their temples.”

    “Yeah, that sounds about right,” Bridger shuddered to agree. “They really hit the mark with this one.”

    “It doesn’t really seem like a temple yet,” Mara observed as she gazed at the nondescript stone walls enclosing them. “Or at least, not any of the old Jedi Temples I know of – like those on Lothal and Saleucami.”

    “Darth Enveniem was more subtle compared to many of his brethren, and his tastes rather aligned with the aesthetic inclinations of the Vespinae as a whole,” Zaed shared what he knew. “The true Temple more befits its name up ahead.”

    “Have you been here before?” the younger Skywalker asked – well knowing the answer to his question, but welcoming him to elaborate further if he so felt inclined without asking him directly. In that regard, Luke was very much Padmé Amidala’s son.

    “Yes.” Yet Zaed paused, pondering on what more he wanted to say – if anything – when Mara gave him an encouraging smile. “Sidious,” it was still instinctive to say my master decades after the Master refused to call him Apprentice in return, “brought me here when I was about your age to learn one of Darth Enveniem’s . . . more unique talents. Yet I proved to be a disappointing student in that regard.”

    He felt Anakin Skywalker’s eyes focus on him for his words, but could not quite make out his thoughts – nor did he then have time to consider the matter any further when the children still had questions.

    “All right, I’ll bite: what was Darth Enveniem’s Sith specialty?” Bridger gave a voice to the interest pulsating from the group as a whole.

    “He had a gift for draining a sentient’s life force – a perversion of the more natural proclivities of his species,” Zaed answered. What he'd once thought a useful, even desirable skill to have in one's arsenal then filled him with an unsettling sense of discomfort. “My–Sidious,” he amended, “mastered the trick for himself – though it’s one he can only use under very specific circumstances,” he added when wide eyes met his pronouncement.

    “That’s a relief,” Ezra breathed without a care for disappointing the elder Jedi, such as Maul would have never dared when he was the Apprentice. Amongst the Sith, showing any weakness to one’s Master was to be avoided at all costs for the potentially lethal consequences such disapproval could bring.

    “Yeah,” Luke grimaced to match Ezra, “I don’t much like the idea of looking for someone who can suck our souls dry at will, either.”

    Zaed felt a chill – no matter the uncomfortable heat of his envirosuit, irritating the interfaces between what remained of his organic body and the socket of his prosthesis – and found himself nodding in agreement.

    “That is something you must understand,” Zaed was almost surprised to hear himself continue. “At its heart, the Dark is nothing like the Light. The Light sustains itself from within, but the Dark . . . the Dark must be fed. If you cannot appease it with proper offerings, it will sate itself on its host – on your hate, your fear, your pain. The power the Dark offers is tempting in its initial ease, but the price it demands to sustain itself is steep in a way you hardly realize you are beholden to until it's much too late to escape the debt.”

    “The Masters make it sound like Falling is just that – a plummet,” Mara mused. “What you describe sounds more like drowning.”

    “It is gradual,” the elder Skywalker spoke then – the first words he'd said since entering the tunnels. Kenobi, Zaed noticed, walked very close to his side. “Most of the time, in the beginning, you don't even realize that you’re drawing from its power it until you are.”

    "Such is true for many," Zaed inclined his head to acknowledge the truth of his words. “And yet, as for myself, I had a . . . unique relationship with the Dark. It was all I had ever known; I was raised in fear and fostered in suffering. I spent my formative years striving to please my Master, and by the time I was old enough to understand that there was an opposite to fear, a choice to be made for anger . . . well, suffice to say, I only disdained those who renounced the power that was as natural to me as breathing as cowards, timid and weak. By the time I truly understood the concept of the Light . . .” yet his voice faltered, unsure as he was of how to continue.

    . . . for that was the path he yet searched for, was it not?

    “So you can touch the Dark and yet still not fall?” Bridger’s voice was pensive, even hesitant, to ask. Zaed sensed a slight glow in the Force, and knew that the three Padawans were supporting each other without words – after all, who did not have a darker side of their own nature to contend with? It was impossible not to feel the temptation the Dark presented, but to close a fist when it reached out with an open hand . . .

    He did not gentle his voice, but nor was it derisive when he said: “You can remove your hand from a flame, can you not?”

    “Well . . . yeah,” Bridger blinked. “Sure you can.”

    “Then you can turn away from the Dark,” Zaed concluded – a deceivingly simple answer, perhaps, but one that held only truth at its core. “However, if you leave your hand in long enough to burn, then you will always bear the scars.”

    For that, their entire party fell silent before Kenobi added, “It requires a special sort of strength to choose the Light after knowing the draw of the Dark.” He looked at Anakin for a long moment. “It takes courage to face down the worst parts of ourselves and emerge the victor.”

    Zaed felt those words resonate deep within his own chest before he shook his head. That was enough chattering like a cluck of Chenforian nuns. They had true demons to slay that night.

    For that, he breathed in deep when a familiar cold set over him – one that went beyond his bones to sink in spirit-deep. His eyes burned with a memory of fire.

    “We are here,” he announced, just as they turned the corner to arrive at the shores of a subterranean lake.

    At a nod from Kenobi, Mara released a glow-globe into the air, and it floated up to hover at the ceiling of the cavern and illuminate the water below. The pool was colorless with mire, and smelled stagnant. It did not noticeably flow, nor was it naturally fed. Instead, the far side of the shore told them all they needed to know with the massive pillars carved to depicts winged beings who seemingly held up the weight of the mountain above. Their bodies were crumpling, seemingly on the brink of collapse, and their features twisted in silent agony as the Temple bore down on their shoulders.

    One stone figure, however, stood apart from the caryatids. Hooded and taloned, the specter of Darth Enveniem seemingly hovered over the water, his wings fully extended. His eyes were not visible, lost as they were in shadow, yet his dead gaze felt alive in its own right for the way his hands were outstretched in a seemingly eternal gesture of offering.

    That, Zaed knew, was the key they sought.

    “This is it?” Bridger didn’t sound at all impressed. “A pool and a few creepy statues?”

    “Do not jump to conclusions so quickly, Padawan,” Kenobi counseled before Zaed could. "Things are not always what they seem."

    “Oh joy,” Bridger sighed, “more riddles.”

    “Yet I do not think that we shall have to wonder overlong for how to solve this particular puzzle. If I'm not mistaken, Zaed already knows how we should proceed.”

    That, he most certainly did.

    Wordlessly, feeling the eyes of the Jedi on him all the while, Zaed stepped forward and reached out with the Force.

    It was still a novelty for him to refuse the Dark that immediately leaped to do his bidding like a pack of eager, faithful hounds. By then, however, Zaed was wise enough to understand that the one leashed and bound would never be the incorporeal entity, but rather the fool who allowed himself to be seduced by its fickle promises.

    He would never bow to another master, he'd long ago decided – never again.

    Yet, no matter his resolve, neither could he quite touch the Light with any sort of equanimity. Instead, the Light seemed uncertain of him, and he struggled with that same uncertainty in return. He could only just touch its face through the Living Force, like a moon reflecting the light of a distant sun, and that’s what he did now – unsteadily and with less grace than he would have been able to accomplish with the Dark, perhaps, but he managed well enough to do what was required to enter the temple.

    He turned the open fingers of Darth Enveniem’s stone hands into fists, and the tenebrous pool began to drain. Slowly, the waters retreated to reveal a staircase leading down to the bottom of the lake, where the entrance to another tunnel awaited with a black, open maw of a mouth.

    “The waters will only recede for so long as the mechanism is engaged,” Zaed revealed through tightly clenched teeth. “You must go, now. There is a matching key on the opposite shore to allow me to follow you in my turn.”

    Bridger let out an impressed whistle for the trick, even as: “It's designed for two,” Mara realized aloud. “A Master and an Apprentice.”

    “One won’t survive without the other,” Luke added. “You Sith really don’t believe in trust, do you?”

    “Not when one has a history of cannibalizing the other, no,” Zaed confirmed, only somewhat sardonically. “Yet that is a subject we may better continue at a later time.” He allowed the pressure he placed on the statue’s hands to ebb ever so slightly, and the waters rushed to rise again.

    For the pointed direction of his statement, the young ones were quick to act – with Mara first descending the stone steps with a confident stride and Luke right beside her. Bridger hesitated for only a moment before he shrugged and followed his friends.

    “You know," Bridger's voice could still be heard, cheerfully resounding from inside the next tunnel, "I should probably be grateful that I'd never have to worry about Master Caleb wanting to drown me.”

    “Most of the time, anyway,” Luke quipped in return, and besides an affronted sound of protest, Bridger's reply was lost to the distance stretching between them.

    Skywalker stayed long enough to feel the children reach the other side – clearly not trusting their safety to the likes of him just yet. At a nod from Kenobi, he made to cross himself – pinning him with a stern glare as he passed, as if daring him to try anything. Kenobi was the last to descend, and he first paused long enough to weigh him with a considering gaze.

    “Are you worried that I will finish what we started so many years ago, and leave you to a watery grave?” Zaed couldn’t help but challenge, flashing his teeth.

    “No,” Kenobi answered levelly. “In fact, I was about to thank you – and assure you that we wouldn’t do the same in our turn.”

    The possibility, Zaed realized with a start, hadn’t even crossed his mind, and that . . . well, he didn’t quite know what to make of that realization. Instead, as he counted down how long it would take his companions to reach the other side, he couldn’t help but remember when he worked the door to this very Temple with Darth Sidious, so long ago. He hadn’t trusted his Master then, and had all but sprinted through the tunnel to reach the opposite shore before Sidious could give into the temptation to end the threat he presented as an Apprentice nearing the maturity of his full power.

    Now, he felt a strange twinge in his chest when he cautiously released the key and the waters kept their level, indicating that the way was safe for him to go. When he descended the steps, there was no doubt in his heart that he’d safely make it to the other side, and that . . .

    . . . it was not an unwelcome feeling, that certainty. Not exactly, he didn't think.

    “Okay,” Bridger said as soon as the waters filled the underground lake again, “now this feels more like a Sith Temple.”

    True to his words, a behemothic chamber loomed before them, carved from the very heart of the mountain. Great arching beams soared and domed above them, with mosaics of volcanic glass playing out scenes from Darth Enveniem’s greatest exploits and misdeeds – scenes that had awed him and filled him with a savage sense of glee and hungry reverence as the Apprentice, but now . . .

    Something twisted, deep inside his gut, and he swallowed against an acrid taste in his mouth.

    The chamber itself was dominated by a massive pyramidal structure, carved with a seemingly infinite number of steps. As a Vespinae, Darth Enveniem had the gift of flight, yet he’d preferred to make his servants – and victims – crawl.

    Now, Zaed ascended with the Jedi, each step heavy with the weight of remembered dread that still drenched the space with an incumbent sense of terror and pain.

    They reached the summit to find a great stone slab carved with ancient Sith runes. Here, that sense of tepidity and despair was all the more concentrated, lingering over the millennia and recently drawn forth anew like a well offering satiation from deep waters. Zaed found himself unsteady on his feet once they crested the final rise, both for his own memories and the ones the Temple held enshrined.

    "It looks like an altar," Mara said, reaching out a hand as if unwittingly drawn to the markings before her fingers curled and she carefully drew away.

    “It is,” Zaed grimly confirmed. “Darth Enveniem had followers amongst the Vespinae – not Sith, mind you, but disciples nonetheless – who ensured that he was . . . well fed, and the Dark equally sated in its turn.”

    At that, the Jedi fell silent for the implied horror of his words. Even Bridger didn't have a pithy comment to make to alleviate the tension. Instead, his eyes were heavy – and sad. The boy did have an impressive connection to the Living Force, even Zaed could admit, and that facet of the Force was particularly grieved here.

    “So much fear,” Ezra muttered. He reached out to touch the altar when none the rest of them could, his blue eyes dim with memory. "So much suffering."

    “As I said,” Zaed said lowly, feeling as both Luke and Mara reached out to support their friend in turn once more, “debts owed to the Dark must be paid in full – one way, or another.”

    "That's all well and good," Skywalker brusquely cut in, moving so that he stood between the children and the altar – and pointedly gesturing for Bridger to retreat a step, "but I don’t see any sign of Sidious. Even if he was here, he’s long gone now.”

    “You left him quite the worse for wear on Leetum, Anakin," Kenobi reminded him. "He would have required a place to rest and recover his strength.”

    “This is the closest Temple to Leetum," Zaed once again voiced their logic in seeking this Temple out from the beginning. "If it was succor Sidious sought, he would have found it here – where it's already natural for the Sith to draw from the life forces of others to augment their own vitality.”

    “And he did,” Mara finally concluded. “Can you not feel it?”

    With that, silence fell again, but not wholly out of macabre reflection. Instead, the each of them sought in their own way, and as they did . . .

    . . . there.

    A flicker.

    A promise.

    A hint of possibility.

    With prey as canny as Sidious, that was the most they could expect, and if they wished for more . . .

    "Fine, then," Anakin gestured sharply. "The sooner we get started, the sooner we can leave. I've got a bad feeling about this place and I don't want to stick around any longer than necessary.”

    Mara was the first of them to kneel on the flagstones before the altar in a traditional pose for meditation. After fixing him with another long look, Anakin followed her, just as Zaed did – with just a twinge of discomfort rippling through his prothesis for doing so. It was easy enough for Zaed to accept Mara's hand to hold, but less so for Skywalker's – who only did so himself at a patiently exasperated look from Kenobi.

    “Shall we begin?” Zaed checked with his companions.

    “I’m ready,” Mara confirmed.

    "Let's get this over with," Skywalker merely grunted.

    Then, while their companions stood guard, the three of them immersed themselves in the Force together . . .

    . . . and went hunting.



    .

    .

    The Apprentice listened -

    - the Hand reached -

    - and the Slave took in a breath.



    .

    .

    The Apprentice was alone – he'd always been alone, for as long as he could remember. It was only him and C8-H8, the droid that was caretaker and warden and tutor, all. Each and every day, he strove to leave C8 with a favorable report to give to the Master. It was everything to him: the idea of the Master nodding in distant approval. Perhaps, if the Apprentice was very good, he would even put a hand on his shoulder and say, “You have done well.”

    Even then, the Apprentice had known better than to ever expect anything more.

    The Hand was lost – had been lost since before she understood what the word even meant. She could feel an echo of painterrordenial – both her own and resonating from them before she was snatched away. No matter how she reached, no matter how they reached, she couldn't hold on. The Master told her that he had found her, that he had taken her in to protect her, and she'd wanted nothing more than to believe him. What else could she do but believe him?

    From there, the Hand remembered strong arms picking her up and calling her Red – he had found her, and he would always find her. She next remembered being heard, even when she didn't have a voice. Now, if she could only see . . .

    I'm ready, the Hand slipped her own through that of the Apprentice. Two sets of eyes were better than one, and together they could search and find.



    .

    .

    There, said the Apprentice.

    Almost, the Hand agreed.

    Yet the Slave only bowed his head.



    .

    .

    The Slave was cold – always cold, even when you’re free, his mother had told him, and you’re free, Master Jinn and Master Kenobi had both agreed.

    He was free . . . wasn’t he?

    Yet there were chains he could still feel, rising up from deep inside his soul, binding him and choking him like living vines. He couldn’t tear out their roots no matter how he tried. Every time he plowed them under the black little seeds sprouted anew and seemingly always would.

    Please, Master Watto, I won’t crash again.

    I know I’ll get it, Master Kenobi, please don’t give up on me.

    What is thy bidding, my Master?

    But no, no, no – that wasn’t him and would never be him. He hadn’t, he wouldn’t -

    - he had drawn his hand back from the flame, had he not?

    Was that why, then, the Slave was still so cold?



    .

    .

    Focus, said the Apprentice. He is within our grasp.

    Hold on, the Hand extended, hold on to me -

    - but the Slave had already shot up from his knees.



    .

    .

    Zaed returned to his own mind in a dizzying rush of displaced pressure and power – like ascending too quickly from the depths of an ocean and gulping in a breath of air after being on the brink of suffocating. He blinked, struggling to recover his bearings, and immediately glanced to the side to find Mara doing the same.

    She held a hand to her brow, but nodded at him before she looked in concern to her own Master.

    Anakin Skywalker, however, was already on his feet and and putting as much distance between himself and the fount of dark energy they'd endeavored to follow to its source as he could.

    “This is pointless,” Skywalker growled, looking upon the altar with loathing. The impressive might of his power lashed around him, agitated and stalking, but without a clear foe to fight – like a great star erupting solar flares into the unaffected cold of space. “We’re not going to find Sidious this way.”

    Kenobi shared a look with Mara, who shook her own head, and then frowned. Gently, he reached out a hand and placed it on Skywalker’s shoulder. “We can try again later, my friend,” he said quietly. “We’ve done enough for this night.”

    Skywalker first looked as if he would shrug away from Kenobi, but he instead held himself still as if through a supreme force of will. His jaw tightened before he took in a deep breath. Slowly, he exhaled.

    “Yeah, we’ll just have to try again,” Skywalker didn’t seem at all enthused by the prospect – but then, neither was Zaed himself, for that matter.

    Yet, to catch Sidious . . .

    . . . there was nothing he wouldn’t endure for that fate to pass – and he remained certain that it yet still would. However, he hardly knew how to put such an assurance into words – especially in a way the likes of Skywalker would hear. So he did not try.

    Kenobi, unfortunately, was also correct. Their search would continue to prove fruitless if they immediately tried again. They would have to return.

    Grinding his teeth in frustration – for they had been so, so close, and he eternally felt as if his former Master was just out of reach and cackling with glee for their failure yet again. Oh, but how he burned to silence that maleficious voice once and for all!

    It was then that he felt a small hand touch his arm – a gentle gesture, and still so bewildering to him even after years of knowing his aubrett by now. “Are you okay?” Mara asked, concern shining in the striking green of her eyes.

    "I could ask the same of you," Zaed returned instead of answering outright. He saw her eyes narrow, just slightly, yet she allowed him his reticence.

    "I'm okay as can be," she gave wryly, lifting her shoulders in a shrug. "I don't like sifting through the mire, but . . ."

    "Sometimes, to catch a sludge-monster, you have to get covered in sludge yourself," Bridger surmised in his own unique way.

    Zaed snorted in amusement before he could stop himself – which was, he thought, half Bridger's aim when he smiled even wider to inspire a matching grin from Mara.

    "I suppose that's one way to put it," she chuckled to agree, and Bridger's grin only grew.

    "I wish I could dive in with you guys," Bridger said regretfully, his voice nonetheless sobering with a sigh. "But just know that we have your backs when you do go under. Someday, you won't have to face him alone."

    Bridger elbowed Mara with a commiserating gesture, and her answering expression was both grateful and fond. "I know. Thank you, Ezra."

    While Zaed could approve of the easing he felt in his aubrett's spirit, he was nevertheless still surprised when Bridger turned to him and asked, "How are you hanging in there, Z?"

    . . . him?

    Surely, Bridger hadn't been addressing him. Yet . . . he had. Zaed faltered, uncertain of how to answer the most innocuous of questions. His next instinct was to be obtuse with a literal answer, but he just as quickly found that he had no true desire to be cutting in that moment. Instead, he inclined his head to acknowledge the young man's concern, no matter how perplexing it was.

    "I am . . . well," Zaed finally managed, his voice hesitant with awkwardness no matter his best efforts.

    His demeaning himself in such a way, however – though . . . no, he was not demeaning himself, nor was he exposing any sort of weakness – was worth it if only for the warm look of approval that bloomed on Mara's face. For that look, there was nothing he wouldn't do.

    "I'll be better once our endeavors yield results," he gruffly amended, even so. "This fruitless searching grows tiresome."

    "That," Kenobi, who had been conversing with Skywalker all the while, sighed to agree, "is a sentiment we can all understand. Come now," he gestured, "let us depart. We will start again after the ceremony tomorrow."

    They rest of their party was quick to acquiesce, and they descended the steps of the pyramid without a backwards glance. As they did so, Zaed, holding back to cover the rear of the group, couldn't help but watch as Luke fell into step besides Mara. He spoke softly, and Zaed was not close enough to hear what he said, but he too was undoubtedly inquiring as to her welfare after coming so close to touching Sidious once more. The look she turned on the boy as she gave her answers seemingly glowed from within, brightening even the perpetual gloom of the Sith Temple surrounding them.

    Zaed felt his lips purse, yet he did not give into his desire to speak, nor did he go so far as to step between the couple when they reached the shores of the lake again, as had been his initial inclination. He was then distracted from his thoughts concerning Mara and Luke entirely, first by his task of turning the key, and then by Bridger saying to Kenobi as they passed through the tunnel: "You know, it makes you wonder how Sidious did this alone. That had to have been quite the trick, don't you think?”

    A hum of disquiet settled over his mind as he was left alone to hold the path open, with the Dark at his back and his companions waiting just ahead. Even the Jedi Council had long debated the existence of a new Apprentice – indeed, they had as far back as Mara’s initial discovery – and this was only further proof that there was more that they didn’t know than that which they did. As for himself, Zaed rather suspected that Sidious had found a new heir to his power as the Rule of Two demanded, yet they had yet to have any clear and convincing proof either for or against that theory.

    There was much they yet needed to seek, in more ways than one.

    By the time he reached the opposite side of the lake, Zaed had succeeded in quieting his thoughts once more. They could not act until they had more information, and that information was just within their grasp. There was nothing more he could do that night, and so, he endeavored to keep his mind clear to exist in the present.

    Even so, he was a brooding shadow lingering at the back of their party – so much so that he was rather surprised when Bridger fell a step behind his friends in favor of walking next to him.

    “So,” he started easily, “I still have questions about this Darth Enveniem guy. Would you mind if I asked?”

    It was not fondness he felt then, but neither did Zaed feel . . . unfond.

    “Ask what you will; I will answer if I may.”

    “Awesome, thanks,” Bridger's grin beamed from his voice. “All right, then, to start: if someone – let’s say a certain Sith Lord, for example – is intent on this whole Dark Side exsanguination thing, how do you stop it? I want to know that, first and foremost.”

    From there, Bridger's cheerful chatter buoyed more than just Zaed's spirits as they trekked up from the heart of the mountain, leaving the Sith Temple far behind.



    ~ MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2023
  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fascinating reading this from Zaed's POV with his perspective on others, the mission, and his place amongst it all. I adore the teasing manner Ezra has with everyone and the besottedness of Luke and Mara [face_dancing]

    Brilliant worldbuilding, as if I'd expect anything different. =D=

    Super progression on the mission and I am relieved they seemed to get away unscathed ... when there are those who have a vulnerability to Darkness, any exposure feels risky. [face_thinking]
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2023
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  10. Findswoman

    Findswoman Fanfic and Pancakes and Waffles Mod (in Pink) star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Somehow I completely missed this update; really sorry about that, especially as I look at the date stamp on it! [face_blush] So glad to see this story continuing, and once again the worldbuilding, of the Abeexian, Vespinae, and Sith varieties, is A1. We have assembled a true Anti-Palpadidious Dream Team here with the Apprentice, the Hand, and the Slave—Zaed/Maul, Mara, and Anakin—and I loved their joint meditation in the middle of the chapter. Each of them is feeling the Dark within this temple pulling out their fears, frustrations, weaknesses, etc., but in a different way than if it were happening individually: it looks like they are going to use those as a source of power and pool that power together for the moment of confrontation. But even with this dark, serious mission there's so much warmth and camaraderie in this group—Zaed feels it too, in Mara's smile and Ezra's casual "How are you hanging in there, Z?" That will carry them through as much as any pooled power in the Force. Can't wait to see what will await our heroes the next day; between all the Abeexian ceremonies and Sith hunting, they've got lots on their plate, to put it mildly, and they're getting very close to their goal! Keep up the fabulous work, as always! =D=
     
  11. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    I'm not entirely sure why it took me so long to come and review the second chapter of this story (probably because I'm harebrained and forgot) but I'm here now to say that this is a spectacular piece of writing. The plot just took a great leap forward with the explanation of the precise reason our Jedi team are investigating this place, but what truly stole the show was all the worldbuilding around the Force and in particular the dark side.

    First of all, there's Darth Enveniem creepy power:
    As you know I have a similar dark side power that I based off the Anzati, but I am totally headfanoning now that Sidious learned from every possible source how he could absorb the life force of others to sustain himself – and the line that "the Dark must be fed" is such a brilliant way to sum up what I was never able to put in so few words. And this power fits so flawlessly with the Vespinae as you have described them to us, it's just perfect.

    Then there's all the dialogue about what it means to fall to the dark side, with falling vs drowning, and even better, the metaphor of turning away from it being like removing one's hand from a candle.
    I can perfectly hear this sentence in a softer version of Maul's voice – not evil, but still ominous.

    And this!
    The whole scene with the underground lake reminded me of the locket recovery scene in Harry Potter, which I'm sure is a reference you had in mind too, but inverted with the requirement that there be two Sith to activate the mechanism. Which only makes sense in the world of Star Wars of course, but was also a fantastic opportunity to develop Zaed's character in this story, with his memory of his visit to this temple as a Sith apprentice vs his current situation as a not-Sith, not-Jedi.

    And, finally, the joint meditation scene:
    &
    I don't think I have the words to do this scene justice. The way you handled the characters, the roles you assigned to them, the roles that were assigned to them in the past, and the roles they willingly assign to themselves now... it was chef's kiss perfection all around.

    It's very interesting that, of the three, Anakin is the one who can't bear to touch the dark again. He was apparently able to face Sidious again in the past (and you're such a tease, by the way, mentioning that something happened on Leetum without telling us what; you'd better get back to writing the rest of this 'verse soon, because inquisitive minds want to know :p ) but having to touch the dark in order to track him down is not something he's willing (or able) to do.
    Ha. Another tease. But you spoiled me on this one, so I won't threaten you with exsanguination to find out what you're talking about!
     
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  12. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    Okay, I'm so incredibly far behind on everything that I'm going to have to do this in installments, but here's chapter 1:

    ABEEXIS III, I AM DELIGHTED ALREADY

    I know that in my case, it's probably the aphantasia that makes me impatient with any prolonged descriptions of physical surroundings in a story, but nevertheless your writing always strikes what is, for me, the perfect balance: the descriptions are thorough but never so long that I start skimming, and poetic but also genuinely evocative. I may not be able to conjure up an actual image of Abeexis in my mind, but nevertheless I now somehow know exactly what it looks like. That's far less common for me than otherwise, but you always manage it.

    This is exactly in character for Padmé, but seriously, where does she find the time? Does the woman ever sleep? [face_thinking]

    One of my favorite things about your writing, and something I'm likely to say repeatedly during this story - and even this one chapter - is just how well you capture each character's voice. The manner of speaking, the word choice, the attitude behind the words, the actions that accompany them - it's all exactly right, and I can see and hear it all. There's not a single out of character word that pulls me out of the story, however briefly.

    Also, Mara and Maul being friends is not something I would ever have come up with on my own, but I am deeply invested in their relationship [face_love]

    lol, accurate :p Also, again, just exactly perfect speech patterns for each character.

    And again. Look, I'm going to come back to this aspect of your writing quite a lot, because accurate characterization is, for me, the most important part of fanfic, and you're so good at it that I just keep hitting all these passages that delight me, I say, and I must point them out. And while every character is going to show different sides of their personality depending on circumstances and company, there are some for whom those differences are very distinct, and Padmé is one of them: formal Padmé speaks very differently from informal Padmé. This is so plainly Padmé's formally performative side that not only is it immediately identifiable, but I especially loved that you had Maul/Zaed consciously recognize that she's carefully chosen these words both for the sake of their specific recipient and the larger audience observing them. Few are as good at walking that politician's tightrope as Padmé, and you get it just right here.

    [​IMG]

    Ahhh they're in a honeycomb, I am delighted again

    [face_rofl] I love Obi-Wan SO MUCH [face_love]

    LOOK AT MY IMPISH SMOL MARA I LOVE HER

    Oh look, it's me when Elli posted this prompt :p

    I love this whole section SO MUCH. SO MUCH [face_love] Mara and Luke are so completely, age-appropriately in character and adorable, and Zaed's reaction is perfect. "The courting habits of sub-adult sentients," indeed :p

    You know what, Ezra's a good character, but whether it's personality differences or the age difference or both, a lot of the time he just frankly annoys the heck out of me. But you've managed to capture all the traits and mannerisms that mostly annoy me in Rebels, while making them - well, less annoying. To me, anyway :p He's so entirely himself throughout, but when balanced with Obi-Wan's endless calm patience or in the context of irrepressibly teasing a peer in front of the girl he likes, it's hilarious :p

    I love every single thing about this, Obi-Wan and a reformed Darth Maul teaming up to keep padawans in line; it is delightful [face_love]

    Not only is characterization the most important thing for me in general, but in any serious AU that puts the characters in deeply different situations than canon - and especially in any AU where their formative experiences have been very different from canon - the biggest challenge and thrill is keeping everyone in character. That requires far more than surface familiarity with the characters in question; the author has to really understand who they are at their core, and what aspects of their personality and mannerisms are inherently them regardless of the circumstances that formed them. It's a giant exercise in both discerning and conveying nature vs nurture, essentially. "All bright-eyed hope and belief" is so quintessentially Luke, and Mara especially is a delight. Mara is frequently misunderstood even in canon-compatible fics, but you get her just right here: even in a 'verse where her upbringing has been so very different from canon (and she's younger than we've ever seen her in canon; a challenge unto itself to write accurately), she's still self-possessed and insightful and patient and reserved - entirely in character, in other words. And as someone for whom Mara is always the biggest draw, I say again, I am delighted [face_love]

    In summation:

    [​IMG]

    I will be back with more as soon as I can [face_love]
     
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  13. A Chorus of Disapproval

    A Chorus of Disapproval Head Admin & TV Screaming Service star 10 Staff Member Administrator

    Registered:
    Aug 19, 2003
    This is absolutely beautiful. Your heart is evident through it. If you weren't already my (probably) favorite person here [citation needed], this would do it.
     
  14. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    Okay, so "as soon as I can" took longer than I expected :p

    This dude :p

    Okay, okay, so he's working, I guess he gets a pass

    I really like this partly because it's some more great descriptive writing, but also because it addresses the radiation issue. A galactic core should not, in fact, be habitable, and while for most of the unrealistic aspects of SW I'm able to turn my brain off and enjoy the space opera, this is one of the details that likes to lurk in my psyche and poke at my suspension of disbelief, and even a quick "this planet just happens to have a special atmosphere" allows me a sigh of relief :p

    DARTH ENVENIEM, YES, GOOD

    Definitely something that Palpatine would have wanted to learn, aligns with Enveniem's own species' natural abilities, parallels the "he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life" thing, and hints at the "Palpatine killed Padmé" theory, while also limiting this ability to keep Palpatine from becoming all-powerful (as Zahn says, you have to include some kryptonite to keep the Jedi [or Sith] from being overpowered), all in three sentences; very well done

    Ooh, I like. A simple and clear illustration of this phenomenon

    What a fantastic and creepy detail

    LOLOL ACCURATE

    Aw, that's our Obi-Wan, I love him so much. [face_love] And I love that Zaed didn't even think about that possibility!

    Ugh, but so very Sithly :emperor:

    My Mara [face_love] She would be, too, excellent work. Anakin's attitude here cracks me up; it's perfectly in character and adds a great layer of tension to the scene and also he's probably extra wary of Zaed more because of his own experiences with the dark than for Zaed's own sake (I really have to read the original story that started this whole verse), so it works amazingly in the narrative, but it's also like, Anakin, you doofus, quit being obnoxious and poor Obi-Wan having to balance all of this, and yet he does it so well and hardly bats an eye at any of them :p

    Lovely poetic writing again [face_love]

    :_| :_| :_|

    Well, now, this is interesting... [face_thinking]

    I love this imagery

    lollllll I'm dying Ezra

    This friendship, I swear [face_love]

    Aaahhhhh my babies I love them so much [face_love] They're going to dance eventually, right? Because there's going to be dancing because it's of cultural importance for bees to have dancing at their funerals and bebeh!Mara is going to wear a pretty dress and she and Luke are going to dance, right? Give me all of the bebeh!Luke and Mara mush, Mira, give it to me now

    Well, well, what have we here [face_thinking]

    LOL fair, and also entirely in character :p

    Mira, I know I have no room to talk when it takes me this long to write up feedback, but I'm going to need more of this, I need to know why Anakin is cold and who Palpatine's new apprentice is and more adorable bebeh!Luke and Mara and Zaed and Obi-Wan and my prompt line, Mira, I neeeeeed it [face_hypnotized]
     
  15. Pandora

    Pandora Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Apr 13, 2005
    It's been a minute since I last visited the Song!verse, but here I am. I have to admit that I haven't ever been much interested in Darth Maul as a character. And since I haven't seen Rebels, I only know what I have overheard in passing about his part there. Zaed, however... It makes sense in this best of all galaxies that he has a chance at the redemption--well, a sort of redemption, even if it won't ever be a simple one--that is part of the mythos of Star Wars, one that he wouldn't ever gotten in any of the canon.

    And as part of his path, he is on this quest to find the man who was his master and his abuser--and in this he is not alone. It's hardly any surprise that, after his upbringing as a Sith, he has trust issues. But thanks to his friendship with Mara, he's learning how to not be utterly alone. Even Ezra, of all the subadults, is starting to grow on him.

    I have only about ten more minutes before it is midnight, and the review race ends, so I'm going to have cut this short. I hope you find the chance to return to this one, because we still have to see that all-important dancing at the funeral, and who will wear the floral skirt and boots in the photograph prompt I provided.
     
  16. Kahara

    Kahara FFoF Hostess Extraordinaire star 4 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Mar 3, 2001
    Ooh, I really like the title and the song you drew it from! :D It's such a powerful phrase and really gives a sense of the challenge that this plot is bringing to Zaed and his companions. (I get some of the best song recs from your stories, by the way, and am glad that I checked out the song for this one!)

    I can't remember if I've reviewed your Zaed stories yet, but have definitely read and loved several of them (and looking forward to finding more as I go back through, hopefully). Anyway, here's vaguely catching up on that -- Zaed's character growth throughout his appearances in the series has just been a joy to read and this story is no exception. @};-

    I really like the complex blend of emotions that he brings to all of the new experiences he's faced with: leaving his prison/leaving his home, revisiting the Sith Temple that played a role in his own apprenticeship when the context and company is so completely different, and seeking to undermine not just his former Master (because that's just plain old Sith tradition) but the dark side that he represents.

    And the Abeexians ( [face_love] ) are a fascinating new species; it was really cool to learn some of the details of their species and world. (Even the sentient murder-wasps. :p Bonus points for there being a vampiric Sith one, that is just worlds of NOPE and perfect.) I was so excited when I realized the Queen that they were attending a funeral for was in fact a "Bee" Queen and that that quote was probably going to be 100% in earnest here. [face_dancing]
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2024