[Originally written by Duende] The story of Zafira Azra'eil - first three chapters for now, more to come!
Chapter 1: Iridonia
Charis was after her again. He had shoulder-checked her three times that day while walking past her, glaring from under his heavy brow. Zafira had outrun him in sprints the day before and Charis couldn’t stand to be beaten by anyone - much less a girl. Her brother told her that Charis had more pride than skill and that if he caught him messing with her again he’d teach him not to cross the Alnari clan again. Zafi stood outside the school waiting for her brother to meet her so they could take a public speeder home. Basit was three years older and nearly three times bigger than his little sister. Her brother was the image of their father and he would be a great warrior some day. His horns were already starting to split through his dark brown hair. Even at twelve years old, he had a broad chest and was taller than most of his peers. She felt Charis walk up behind her and knew he thought that he was sneaking up on her. As he lunged to shove her from behind she suddenly bent over, threw her weight into him, rolled him over her back and slammed him to the ground in front of her. It was a simple move the Marshal had taught two days ago. He should have seen it coming. Charis scrambled up and took a swing at her catching her shoulder. She grunted and pulled her own fist back, swung and missed. Other children began to run over shouting encouragement. The combatants circled each other, taunting and cursing, drawing a crowd. The school Marshal felt a flicker on the edge of his consciousness, and moved to his office window to look at the shouting children outside. Something, or someone, had caused a ripple in the Force, and it alerted him. Charis taunted her, circling her, using every name and insult he could think of, landing blows on her every now and then. She was angry, her only thought was to pound his face into pulp. He was too fast and too quick. She couldn’t get close enough. She wanted him within range, and imagined that she could pull him closer to her if she were just mad enough to make him—Charis stumbled and pitched forward towards her. Zafira took the opportunity to swing for his gut, missed, and caught him in the nose as he fell forward. Blood spewed from his face and he howled, crying. Zafi laughed at him, and was joined by many of the spectators. A large hand clamped down on her shoulder. Basit shoved her out of the way and stepped between her and the bully. “Enough!” He yelled. The older boy grabbed the bully by the front of his tunic, pulling him up to his face. He snarled, “If you touch my sister one more time, they will find your body in the desert if they find you at all.” He dropped the younger boy to the pavement, took Zafi’s hand, and half-dragged her away. The Marshal turned back to his desk and made a secure call. -- The children stood in rows in the yard, sweating in the sun. Today the Marshal had given them simple wooden staves and they held them like swords, marching forward and retreating. Advance, parry, swinging high and low, turn, block, advance… drilling in unison like small soldiers while he called out the moves from the edge of the yard. When he was satisfied with their performance, he began to call out pairs for sparring. His lip twitched into a flicker of a smile when he paired Zafira with Charis. Charis glared at her, hefting his wooden sword as he faced her. They were supposed to practice the forms they just learned and demonstrating that they could apply their new skill to an opponent. Zafi raised her sword to block as he swung, advanced on him, and began the simple moves they had learned. Suddenly, Charis pulled back his sword and struck her hard, right in the center of her head. This was not an attack they had just learned, and she was completely unprepared. She stepped back, dazed, and he hit her again in the ribs, driving the breath from her body. She bent over, reeling from the pain, anger and fear stunning her mind as well as her body. “Where’s your brother now, stupid schutta?” He hissed at her. Charis struck her on the back, driving her down to the ground on all fours. He raised one leg back to kick her. Zafi came to her senses and grabbed the leg he was balanced on and pulled, crashing him down on his back. A hot ball of fear burned in her stomach. She was fast, but he was strong, and he could beat her easily without Basit to protect her. The other children around them stopped what they were doing and ringed them again, glad to see the two finishing what they’d started the day before. She leapt onto him while he was down, pounding his face ineffectually with her fists. She could hear the Marshal’s boots crunching as he ran towards them to break up the fight. Charis recovered and flipped her over on her back, sitting on top of her and putting his wooden sword across her throat, choking her. The fear grew stronger– he was trying to kill her this time, for sure, and he would win. She didn’t want to die. She grabbed at his arms, trying to pull them away, getting more desperate as her air ran low. The fear broke free and raced through her body like a wave of fire. It exploded from her hands and into the bully on top of her, cracking like lightning in a summer sandstorm. Charis fell away from her, dead. His body smoked and his eyes were black pits of ash. The Marshal picked her up from the ground by her tunic, flung her over his shoulder, and raced back to his office, the stunned children watching them go as alarms began to ring loudly through the school grounds. -- The hooded man arrived that very night, menacing in his dark robes, his face unmarked with any clan markings of adulthood. When he looked at Zafira with piercing eyes she felt something strange twist inside her, frightening her to the core. She and Basit were shuffled off to his room while the man spoke to her father. Their home was small with thin walls, and she listened hard to hear what he said over the pounding of her hearts. Words like, “Dromund Kaas” and “Sith” meant nothing to her. She pulled herself away from the wall and ran to hug her brother. “Basit,” she whispered, “They are taking me to prison.” She buried her face in her brother’s chest and sniffled. “They are going to kill me.” The siblings clung together and cried. Her father opened the door and beckoned his daughter. He didn’t look sad at all, but smiled at her and peeled her out of her brother’s hug. His eyes shone with pride. “Zafi,” he said, “We need to pack a bag for you. You are going somewhere very far away, and you must leave tonight.” She wailed, terrified, sobbing about prison and dying and executions. “No, little one. You are going to be trained to be a warrior. Just like I was when I was young, only better. “ He wiped tears from her cheek. “You are special, little Zafi.” He took her to the strange man and told her to do everything he said, be obedient, and be strong. Her mother came in with a small pack with a change of clothes and her school datapad, and tucked a few sweets inside. She knelt, putting the pack on Zafira’s back. Her mother smoothed her hair, and hugged her. She could feel the fear inside her mother’s mind, and it made her cry again. She looked up to see her brother at the door, his face stricken with grief. Her mother whispered, “No matter what you do – survive. You must stay alive.” She felt the emotions crystallize inside her soul, becoming a hard knot. She nodded at her mother. “I will make you proud of me.” The strange man took her hand and led her out of her family’s dwelling, down strange streets, into the Malidris starport, and on to her new life.
Chapter II: Dromund Kaas
“I thought you were supposed to bring in hopefuls for the Academy, Lord Kirak?” The Sith paced back and forth in front of the four children lined up obediently in his office. “Instead you brought me three pieces of alien trash and a human who wouldn’t know the Force from the blunt end of a spoon.” His voice dripped with scorn. He paid no attention to Zafira or the two Twi’leks who stood beside her. This man was red with skin as dark as she’d ever seen. Instead of clan markings, he had strange appendages hanging from his face, like the beard of a lizard. Some of them were beaded and adorned with metal. His eyes were hard and red, and he radiated hatred. He stopped pacing in front of the human. “Send this one to the Academy. Maybe they can find something useful for him to do.” He waved his hand at the other three, “I have no use for this refuse.” “But my Lord,” Began Kirak, “They are far more sensitive than that boy, the Zab—“ “Silence!” The Sith barked. “I will not pollute the Academy with the random leavings you scrape off the street. Send that one to the western construction camp and those two wormheads can learn to serve as they were meant to. Don’t ever bring another alien into my office, no matter if they are the by-blows of the Emperor himself -- Is that understood?” Lord Kirak bowed his head in silence. He grouped the four children together and ushered them out of the office and into the bustling hall outside. Zafira stood in the hall, stunned. What camp? She was supposed to be a warrior, like her father. Was she being sent to prison after all, for killing Charis? Her mind whirled. He led them from one speeder station to another, until finally they landed well West of the city. The dark sky rolled overhead, and her skin felt the dense moisture of rain about to fall. There was more green here than she had ever seen in her life, and she looked around trying to soak it all in. The menacing Sith walked with her to a small outbuilding ringed by fortifications and turreted guns. Armed guards stood at attention, their blasters in hand, watching every man and woman who walked nearby. Kirak announced himself and a moment later, they were inside where the air was cooler. He nodded at the man behind the desk. “I have a new one for you.” “What’s this?” the Overseer looked at her. “She’s too young; I don’t have any work for children here.” Kirak moved his hand, and something inside Zafira jumped. “You have work for this one. She’s a special case.” “Oh yes, I can find work for this one, she’s a special case,” repeated the Overseer, blankly. He blinked “She can work in the laundries. Little young, but she looks like she’s going to be built like a bantha when she fills in.” “Good.” Kirak nodded. “I knew we could come to an understanding. I’ll be keeping an eye on her from time to time, so I’ll leave her with you. ” He turned on his heel to walk out, then stopped and added, “If anything happens to her, I will hold you personally responsible.” The door shut behind him. She stood in the Overseer’s office, terrified and alone. When the collar was fastened around her neck, it sunk in. She would never be a warrior. She had just been made a slave. Her days became nothing but work. If it wasn’t laundry, it was cleaning barracks where the slaves slept. In the stifling, wet afternoons she went out to the workers, trailed by a huge cargo droid loaded with water and rations that followed the transmitter on her wrist. Tileen, a female with the face of a cat, befriended her. Tileen was older -- eighteen years, she said. She taught Zafira how to fade into the background. She told her to keep her eyes down, her voice quiet, and call everyone without a collar, “Lord.” She taught her who could be trusted and who to stay away from. True to his word, Zafira saw Kirak every now and then. She would catch a glimpse of him speaking to the Overseer on the ridge, or staring at her from the railing above the rock quarry as she handed out rations with the droid. She hated him but looked forward to seeing him. Every glimpse of his black-robed form reminded her that he had taken her from home; made promises he never kept, and shamed her family. When he appeared, she knew that he would want to see her. She would be summoned to the Overseer’s office after supper and made to stand where he could look at her. Zafira could tell that he knew she hated him, but he seemed to find her hatred amusing. The hatred felt good. By the time her days were over, she lay on her pallet in a room with Tileen and two other women, and did her lessons on her school datapad. No one had done more than a cursory check of her pack and no one seemed interested in taking it from her. The datapad held an entire library of educational books with classes from simple math to the theories of complex calculations needed to jump to hyperspace. It looked like a child’s toy, and no one took notice of it. She fed her mind, the histories and stories took her away from the grim reality of her new life. Two years passed this way. The tedium and cruelty of life in the slave camps shaped Zafira’s mind and body. Like her brother, she was soon large and strong, nearly as tall as the teens five years her senior. Her shoulders were broad and muscled from hard work. Her horn buds were hurting, a sign that her body was beginning to change, as well. Lord Kirak still visited, but more time elapsed between one appearance and the next. As for work, the construction was progressing and underground tunnels were being built to carry data lines and power from the main city to the Western expansion. Slaves from off world mines were being brought in to dig the tunnels, which made for many new faces. She saw them all on her daily trips down the work lines with her big droid full of rations. The older males in the tunnels looked at her with relief and even kindness when she appeared. There were a few Zabrak among them, and they tried to question her: Where was she from? Who were her people? Why was she here? She gave no answer, steeled her anger within her mind, and moved on. Some of the new slaves were young men in their teens, raised as work slaves and hardened to mine work. Humans, Twi’leks, and stranger species Zafira had no name for. They moved in a pack, like the sithspawn that made the swamps so dangerous. They looked at her with a predatory gleam in their cruel eyes, and she stayed as far away from them as she could. -- The droid lumbered behind her as she walked from the central camp to the dig site. She’d seen Kirak that morning, and knew he was at the camps. He’d want to see her when her day was over, as he always did. She took the elevator down into the pit where the tunnels opened to the dark, myriad shafts beneath the ground. The guards stood aloof with their shock sticks and guns and she knew she should go to them first, to offer them food and water. She mumbled, “My Lords…” as she came to the guard station. They wordlessly waved her on towards the tunnel openings. As the workers came up to the droid, she shrank inside herself. Be still, Tileen had told her, Make yourself small and don’t look at anyone. Still your mind. Some of the men were kind to her, as if they remembered daughters from their past. Zafira cringed from them with the memory of her father still fresh. He would be ashamed of her now. When the group at the entrance had their shares for the day, she and the droid started down the main tunnel. The men working inside were not allowed to leave until they had fulfilled their tasks for the day, and they would be hungry and thirsty. The tunnels were long and dark, lit intermittently by glow lights where people were working. She walked from one island of light to the next, from one grateful work group to the next, mostly in darkness. Lighting empty tunnels cost money and no money would be wasted on slaves if the operation could help it. Side tunnels split off from time to time into arteries that connected the massive underground system. “Hey! Girl!” She heard the voice from her left. One of the pack-runners stood in the artery entrance, a glow-rod in his hand. “We need water over here.” She turned towards him with her droid. As she got closer, she froze. He radiated malice. She looked up to meet his eyes and knew in an instant that he meant to harm her. She turned and raced blindly down the main tunnel. She heard the crunching of boots behind her. Fear rose inside like a wave of red choking off all of her senses, driving her to run faster in the faint hope that another work party would be close enough to shelter her. She saw a glow ahead and ran for it. The glow rods were held by three more of the teens, standing across the tunnel. She tried to dodge – tried to escape – but they were bigger and stronger. One knocked her to the ground. He picked her up and held her with her arms behind her back. She yelled with rage and twisted and kicked furiously in his grip trying to break free. The Twi’lek male grabbed her leg, the third male punched her in the stomach and she choked for air. As the human who had chased her caught up to the group, he smashed his fist into her head and she fell into darkness. Pain. Screaming. Something gnawed at her gut like a fanged beast. Opened her eyes and saw nothing but red and brown and dirt. Down on her stomach and kicked over and over into the dirt that was in her mouth and in her eyes and the pain screamed again and she had to get away. She had to get away, had to crawl, had to find the source of the pain and stop it. She struggled to get her hands under her. “Stay down!” a voice hissed, and she felt the impact of his boot on her ribs. I am going to die. Her mother’s voice echoed in her head. “No matter what you do… stay alive.” Something inside of her mind snapped like the bones in her ribcage. The fear gave way to rage and a target. The fire in her center flared and grew. Her rage saw the pack… the males… heard their cruel laughter. The air snapped with electricity and her hands in the dirt began to spark. Curls of smoke rose from her skin. She spat out blood and dirt, took a deep breath and screamed. Pain and fear and anger flared out of her like a nova. Streams of lightning flared from her body erratically. Forks of pure power ripped stones from the walls and ceiling of the tunnel, sending them crashing down around them. The air filled with dust and rock and the deep rumble of the ground disturbed. She couldn’t see, but she could feel her abusers around her, red lights in the darkness -- Lights that had to be snuffed out. One male fell, crushed by a volley of stone. The one holding her twitched and fried. She crawled, screaming, on her forearms, her legs uselessly scrabbling in the dirt, blind but determined to get away, any way she could. Two more tried to run but she raised her hand and ended their lives with streams of her rage made manifest. She crawled through the darkness as the sand and rock and roaring ground gave way around her and before her. The Force cocooned her body and propelled her forward. She crawled a few dozen yards and then collapsed, senseless. -- Zafira was flying. Something held her in a haze of light as her spirit flew the skies. The air was cold, and the sky achingly blue with pink and yellow clouds like the skies of home. There was no pain, and no sound but the rushing of water all around her. A voice like a dark whisper chased her flight. Come back it said. Come back and open your eyes, little Sith. She opened her eyes. Kolto flowed around her in a thick bubbling mass casting everything around her in a soft blue glow. Lord Kirak stood outside the tank with his hand pressed to the side and staring at her with intense red eyes. She searched for her hatred of him, but found nothing inside herself but a cold empty place. I must be dead. She thought. He pressed a button on the side of the tank. She closed her eyes, and flew once more. -- Zafira thumbed off the little datapad and rolled over in her cot. The images of the tunnel collapse were all over the grid. The operation managed to evacuate most of the tunnel workers, but fourteen were found dead in the rubble, crushed under the rock. Freak accident. She’d smiled when she’d seen that report, and a spark had flared inside her mind. It made her happy to hear the pack would no longer hunt anyone else. There was one holovid she kept playing, over and over. The cameras were turned on the tunnel mouth to show great clouds of rock dust spewing from it. Kirak appeared, his black robes creased with streaks of dirt and blood, striding out of the wreckage. Zafira’s limp body was cradled in his arms, her arms and legs hanging uselessly and her eyes open but sightless. Her face was bruised but recognizable. Blood dripped from her knees and feet. Her hands were charred and burnt. Surely her father had seen her by now, in the arms of the man who had come to take her away, and saw that she wore the collar of a slave. She had shamed her family, shamed her clan. She hoped her family had seen the holovid, and thought she was dead. The nurses whispered when they thought she couldn’t hear. Lord Kirak had brought her back to Kaas city and paid an incredible sum of credits to keep her alive and repair her broken body. She had been one step away from death when he pulled her out of the tunnel. That didn’t erase the shame she had brought on her family. She was supposed to be special. She was supposed to bring pride to her father’s eyes. They held up a mirror to her face from time to time. She could watch the bruises heal, and run her fingers over her horn buds to feel them stretching and aching. The doctors did their work well, and no scars were left behind to mark her. Her eyes had changed the most; where once they had been green and clear like an acid pool, they were now ringed by halos of red fire. When she was declared healed and healthy, Lord Kirak returned for her. He replaced the slave collar on her neck while she glared at him with her red-ringed eyes. He stood in the face of her anger and told her to follow him. She stopped him and handed her datapad over to him when they reached the spaceport. “Here.” She said, “Return this to my family, and tell them that Zafira Alnari is dead.” He took it without a word, and they boarded the transport to Korriban.
“You will do as I tell you.” Lord Kirak spoke close to her ear. “You are still a slave,” She stared ahead at the wall of the shuttle and heard his voice above the whine of hyperspace travel. “But you are my slave. I will not have you to answering any other but me. I will train you to use the darkness that flows inside of you. You will be my greatest warrior, and my greatest weapon. But you must tell no one of this. Do you understand me?” Zafira nodded silently. Her face remained blank and passive, but the familiar hate for the man flared in her mind and body. Kirak chuckled softly and leaned back in his chair. “Yes. Feed that hate, little girl. It will serve you well. You will learn the ways of it, and it will make you strong. “ Korriban was very much like home. The desert air felt good on her face, and she craned her neck to look up at the towering red walls and massive stone statues above the landing pad. She fell in behind her master as he walked down dusty paths and durasteel walkways from the port to the Academy proper. They passed tombs guarded by soldiers and Zafira spotted other slaves going about their labors inside. Hopefuls, acolytes and apprentices scurried around the grounds, avoiding him and paying no notice to her. After walking in the dusty heat for some time, Kirak entered one of the tombs, and led her inside. He led her down dark and unused corridors until he came to a slab of rock covered with strange markings. “This tomb has many secrets, little girl. This is one of them.” He showed her how to press a sequence of hidden triggers and the slab slid away to reveal a hidden passage. The door slid closed behind them silently. He pulled glow rods from a crate just inside the door and led her within. It was the empty tomb of some forgotten Sith Lord abandoned and desolate. “Here is where you will meet me when I call for you. This will be your training ground for now. It’s important you never be seen coming or going from this place, so your first lesson will be how to detect the presence of others.” She nodded, and Lord Kirak began her first lesson, giving name, form, and function to the power that raged inside her. Force he called it Dark Side he named it. Zafira soaked up his words and for the first time, realized the potential of the power that raged within her. She was special, just as he had told her father. She would redeem her family pride, after all. When her first lesson was concluded, they slipped from the tomb and walked along the cool underground corridors that eventually led to a large courtyard. Slaves toiled in the dirt, moving earth and stone to uncover the ruins buried beneath the sand. “This is the tomb of a great Sith Lord.” He said. “You will join these others in their labor until I call for you.” He motioned towards the tents clustered against one crumbling wall. “Go there to find a place for yourself. Do as the overseers tell you, but remember, you are mine. When I come for you, you will do as I say.” Zafira stared at him, defiance in her eyes. Lord Kirak raised his hand and slapped her across the face. “Go!” His voice echoed off the rock, making nearby slaves look up, then look away. The slap stung her face but she didn’t cry out. She turned back to meet his eyes. “Yes, my Lord.” She backed away from him several steps before turning to walk to the tents. The slave camp on Korriban was far different from that on Dromund Kaas. These people had been together for many years and newcomers were rare. There were Zabrak women here, and they fussed over her like she was their own youngster, finding clothes, distractions, and light work for her. They noticed the way she rubbed at her painful horn buds and nodded at each other knowingly. Zafira was already tall at 12, and she continued to grow taller on Korriban. Built like a bantha, the old overseer had called her, and she was proving true to form. Working in the archaeological site was difficult and as the time passed, her arms and shoulders became hard and rounded with muscle. Her horns split her skin and grew, ringing her head in a crown of spikes atop her 1.8 meter height. She knew she would never be a great beauty, so she rediscovered her pride and her arrogance and wore them like armor. She kept to herself or stayed with the women. The incident on Dromund Kaas left her with a deep fear of being alone, especially of being alone with a male. Nightmares of that time troubled her – images of something terrible and shameful that haunted her, but for which she had no name. When the dreams disturbed her, she often woke to find Shonna, comforting her with soothing words. Shonna, her dark skin marked with jagged black tattoos that matched her blackened horns, usually slept in the bunk next to hers. She stroked Zafira’s hair and dried her tears until she fell asleep again. When Shonna stayed with her, her arms wrapped around Zafira’s shoulders, the dreams didn’t come back at all. Lord Kirak trained her in the secret tomb as often as he could get away. She devoured the knowledge he gave her. He taught her how to use the Force to power and control the lightning that had burst from her twice before. He told her that she had an innate talent with the spells and forms needed to bend the Force to her will. She would surpass any of the aspirants currently studying in the Academy. Each time she left the tomb, her senses tingled with satisfaction. She could feel the power of the Force coming from the planet itself, infusing every stone she picked up. She was growing more powerful every year, and would soon be able to show the Academy just how magnificent she could be. When she asked him when she would join them, he put her off, “It isn’t the right time. You are my secret, little acolyte. When you are ready, I will unleash you on my enemies.” The other Zabrak women sat with her one evening, and told her that it was time for her to rise to adulthood. They apologized for not being able to do it properly, but they were her family now, for what it was worth, and would do what they could. The Res Selenoren would take place as best they could. In the darkness of the sleeping room, Shonna traced marks on her face in black with a tiny machine, etching them permanently into her skin. “These.” She said, as she traced several jagged lines from her eyes to her cheeks, “These are the tears you will never cry again, Qalbi.” She traced a symbol over her lips and down her chin, “And this is the mark of silence. You will carry secrets always in your heart.” She made a mark on her forehead, “And this is to protect you from nightmares.” As the sting of the ink faded, Shonna kissed her, and Zafira felt a fire in her core that wasn’t Force at all. She put her arms around Shonna as she had for many nights for many years. On this night, they did not sleep. -- She felt the man follow her into the tunnels, though she couldn’t see him. He’d been watching her for days, trying to be close to her, trying to get her to talk to him. He reminded her of the young men on Dromund Kaas – full of masculine power, and something else. There was something he wanted from her that was confusing, almost violent, and it scared her. Feeling his approach, she hid behind a half-crumbled statue and watched him pass by. She felt his emotions, and knew he was hunting her for certain. She knew the feel of it – the same excitement the pack on Dromund Kaas had in their minds when they’d nearly killed her. The man was a threat. He meant to track her into the tunnels and do to her what the others had tried to do when she was a child. He would hurt her and kill her unless she killed him first. Her eyes narrowed and she moved down the tunnel behind him. Her master wanted her to practice her skills, and this was as good a time as any… The man didn’t have time to scream before the shock of lightning fried his body. He died instantly and it left Zafira frustrated. She wanted to hurt him, not kill him right away. Males like him deserved to die. They also deserved to feel every bit of pain they had caused her and scream out their last breath in agony. Dissatisfied with herself, and afraid her master would be upset with her, she shouldered the body and trudged down to the depths of a side cavern, where the Shyracks lurked. They would take care of the evidence for her. She would not make that mistake again. -- The new guard had been eyeing her as she walked across the dig site, ferrying tools and equipment, stone, and crates of materials. She sneered to herself as she passed him, feeling the too-familiar pull of his arousal, paired with a cruelty that guards reserved for the women they thought they could intimidate into compliance. He had already forced two of the women in the camp to participate in his depraved desires, and she vowed to make certain that his “entertainment” spree was over. She’d worn clothes a little too old, a little too small. They strained against the ample curves of her body, accentuating her form and showing every line of muscle underneath. They revealed without revealing. She dropped her load and walked casually to a side entrance to the tomb. She paused, looked back at him, and with a simple nudge of the Force, gave him the will to follow her. She walked inside the cool tunnel and vanished in the darkness. It wasn’t long before his boots crunched on the stone floor. “Here!” She whispered in the dark, “Come here! I know a place…” Her voice echoed off the stone and she led him, turn by turn, following her voice in the dark until she had him right where she wanted him. She opened the panel to the secret tomb aside, and lit a glow stick. Now that he could see her, his lust and eagerness evident, he followed her inside and she slid the door closed behind her. High above her, atop a support pillar, a small red light flicked on unnoticed. She controlled the burst of lightning that stunned the guard and rendered him unconscious. Smiling, she dragged his body to the platform of the tomb, restrained him and began her work. She knelt in meditation first, feeding on the feeling of triumph at getting him here, keeping him alive, and having him to hone her skills for as long as she dared to keep him. She stood, and sent a single jolt of electricity through him to wake him. He cursed and glared; fought his bonds and said cruel words. Zafira smiled broadly, absorbing his rage and finding the well of fear he was so desperate to hide. She began with the shocks, experimenting with how long and how much energy she needed to expend in order to cause the most pain. Finding the limits of her own power, and the power of the guard to survive, was her goal. He resisted as much as he could, and screamed in glorious agony for hours. When she tired of shocking, she toyed with his mind, searching for his deepest fears to trap him in a stupor. She tried everything she knew, everything she had learned at Kirak’s feet. Zafira never heard the door open behind her. “Slave.” She whipped around, shocked. She had not felt him approach, or heard him enter. The guard dropped his head, senseless. She stammered, “M.. My Lord.” And froze, terrified. “You forgot something, Slave.” His eyes blazed from beneath his black hood. “Master?” Her fear was palpable. “You forgot the whirling wind.” Lord Kirak raised his hand and spun the air and tomb dust and dirt around the guard, lifting his body and tearing the bonds from his hands. He spun in the air, comatose and helpless. “Now.” He said, “End it.” Zafira closed her eyes tightly, balled her fist, gathered her power and struck a Force blow at the ground. The guard was flung against the wall hard so hard his neck snapped instantly. Kirak turned and walked back towards the door. He stopped, turned to her and said, “I believe those Shyracks are expecting you. Best not keep them waiting when they are hungry. You have done well.” Zafira fell to her knees and lowered her head to the floor in gratitude. -- Eighteen years. Half of her life spent in slavery and in secret. She should have been a warrior by now. Instead, she sat in the shade of a crumbling rock wall, sucking meat off the bones of her lunch and listening to the whispers of rebellion stirring in the camp. Kirak had given her an assignment. Find out who was driving the rebellion, and end his life, and during that end, find the names of his inner circle. She would be allowed to use the tomb for her work. If she were successful, he would free her and let her train with the others. She would be allowed to prove her worth and take her place among the Sith where she belonged. Messages had been flying back and forth all day – ciphers written on chips of stone and passed hand-to-hand on top of buckets of dirt. There would be a meeting tonight and only long-time workers would be there. The message said that they would be awakened when It was safe to meet. These were people Zafira knew and trusted, people who had raised her to adulthood and were as close to her as family. They were nothing in the face of achieving her goal of unleashing the power inside of her. She awoke as Shonna shook her shoulder. “Come on,” She whispered, “Get up.” Zafira rose quietly, and stood in her night clothes. Other women, the older and wiser ones, were also standing. Shonna moved towards the end of the tent where the stoves burned to keep the chill desert air at bay. The women gathered around for warmth. “We meet.” Shonna said. “We meet you and me and all of us together, to end our slavery and take the freedom we deserve.” Zafira paled. It was Shonna. “The men are meeting in their own tent – but the message is the same. “ she continued, “Slicers are working on the droids, weapons have been purchased and stashed in secret. When the time comes, we overpower the guards, make for the shuttle, and get offplanet before the alarm can be raised.” Shonna scratched a map of the dig site in the dust on the ground. “Our weapons are here… here… and here. When you hear the call, you’ll know it. Grab what is handed you, kill whatever stands in your way, and get to the shuttle pad. We have a pilot among the men who can get us out.” The women nodded assent. Shonna had picked her conspirators carefully. None refused to help. Back in her bunk, Zafira held Shonna close, feeling their hearts pound with excitement and anxiety. Neither could sleep so they lay there, breathing, not daring to move or talk. Zafira’s mind raced. She had two choices, and no easy answer. Before the sun rose, Zafira crawled from the bunk and whispered to Shonna to follow her. They slipped out of the tent, and into a corridor that led deep underground. Once out of earshot, Zafira spoke. “I want to show you my secret place. Maybe you can put some weapons there if you need. A place to hide if you need to. Will you come with me?” Shonna smiled and nodded. Zafira continued, “And tell… Who? Who are the men who are helping us?” Shonna whispered in the dark, the name of her counterpart on the men’s side, and the name of the pilot. “Good.” Zafira said, “You can show them this place later. Take note of where we are going so you don’t get lost – I can only show you the way this one time. I won’t be able to get back here before the time is right.” She took Shonna to the abandoned tomb, showed her how to open the door, and they slipped inside, quietly. She gaped in wonder and looked around the room, excited. “I love it!” She cried. “I’m glad.” Zafira said, sadness in her voice. “What? What is it, my heart?” Shonna looked at her strangely. “This is your end. You will never leave this room.” Zafira’s voice cracked with emotion. Shonna looked at her, confused. “I have done my job. I have found the leader of the rebellion, and I will be rewarded.” “No!” Shonna crumpled to the ground. “I… don’t do this please. I just want to be free. You want to be free. Please?” She begged for her life. “Zafi. I love you.” Zafira gathered her power and shocked her where she lay on the floor. Shonna screamed and looked at her with bitter hatred in her eyes. “You are not one of us. What are you?” Zafira moved her hands in an intricate pattern, calling up the greatest ability she knew. The lightning arced purple and deadly from her hands, killing Shonna instantly. She looked at the body and whispered to the empty tomb. “I am Sith.”
Chapter IV: Korriban 5 years later
Verus was planning something. She could tell by the curl of his lip under his hood that something was cooking in his twisted mind and that it would probably involve her at some point. He had become her constant companion at the Academy, but why, she couldn’t say. They had both been slaves, but beyond that had nothing in common except for a grudging admiration for each other’s capacity for cruelty. The one thing he didn’t have was any sort of attraction or intentions towards her, and that’s all that really mattered. He was intelligent, reasonably predictable, and his talent with healing had saved her life as often as her whirling vibrostaff had killed those trying to end his. He slipped a small bottle out of his robe and gave it to her. “Drink that.” He said. Zafira sniffed it, distrustful. She took a sip and found it to be an ordinary intoxicant. “What? Did you make this?” He rolled his eyes, “Just DRINK it!” She glared at him and downed the bottle. She shrugged. He grinned. “Oh come on, Verus. You know that stuff does nothing to me.” She handed over the empty bottle. His lips twisted into a leer. “And that’s the point, my dear Zafira. That bottle you just drank would turn your average humanoid into a giggling idiot. If they see you drink it…” She thought for a moment and then snickered as she understood. “What are you going to tell them is in it?” “A potion to help them pass their trials, of course.” Zafira laughed. “Poor sad sons of Hutts… won’t know what hit ‘em. How much are you going to charge for it?” He said nothing; his grin was all the answer she needed. She shook her head at him and glanced at her chrono. She had an appointment to keep with Lord Kirak and wanted to make sure she was late. “Make sure I get my cut, Verus.” She said over her shoulder as she walked away. “For what? You didn’t do anything!” He called back. She spun around and walked backwards as she yelled to him, “It would be a shame if the Chief Inquisitor found out about your little side business, wouldn’t it? My cut! Don’t forget it!” She grinned menacingly, turned, and continued on her way. Lord Kirak’s new offices were much more spacious than his old apartments had been. For the past five years, Zafira had done his bidding, clearing his path of obstacles and enemies. Many of his rivals became food for the Shyracks at Zafira’s hand. Now he sat as Chief Inquisitor of the Sith Academy, dispensing justice to the students who stepped outside the lines of the law – and were stupid enough to get caught doing it. In return, Kirak had removed certain obstacles for her, and she had passed her trials easily. All through her training, he had taught and counseled her in secret. She studied with the other Masters, of course, but Kirak reminded her often that she was his to do with as he pleased. Under his guidance, Zafira had refined her skill at gaining information from less than willing informants. Whether the information she gained was true or not meant little to her. The final result was all that mattered; Knives and blood and screaming that drew out the darkness of the Force within her. Over the years, his lessons became more precise, more focused. He turned her lust for revenge into a drive for avenging the Empire against its enemies. He stoked her pride and arrogance into contempt for lesser beings, and let her practice on Republic prisoners until she understood how weak and powerless they truly were. He taught her seduction and manipulation. She hid her distaste for him and learned what he taught while adding one more thing to the list of what she hated him for. She became his weapon, and she yearned to be as useful to the Empire as she had been to him. The only lessons he couldn’t give her were in combat. Though he carried a saber like every other Sith, she never saw him use it. His skills lay with incapacitating his foes and killing them through sorceries, rather than combat. His weakness was glaring. She knew the power that flowed within her, had measured his, and found it wanting. She knew her destiny would take her much farther than to be the apprentice to a petty bureaucrat at the Academy. She fell into combat skills training naturally and found that many of the things she had learned from her school days were easily applied to saber combat. She was adept with a practice sword and proven deadly with a vibroblade. She stood before him, ready to choose her path forward and accept an apprenticeship. She knew Kirak would be delighted. He had been preparing her for it for almost fifteen years. He looked up at her from his desk, annoyed. “You’re late.” “I’m sorry My Lord. I was detained.” She bowed to him, ever respectful. He made a face. “Your trials are over, Acolyte.” He paused and steepled his hands, staring at her, his elbows resting on his desk. “You will officially become my apprentice now, little Sith. A long way from the slave you once were, no?” Zafira bowed her head to him again. “My Lord. This is a tremendous day for me. I beg you one indulgence.” He nodded to her, motioning with his hand for her to continue. She knew his love of ritual and symbolism, and turned it to her advantage. “When we first came to Korriban, you took me to the hidden tomb, and gave me my first lesson. Let’s meet there tonight, and I will formally accept your offer in the place where you gave me a name and a purpose for my power. I will be your apprentice, Master.” He was pleased. They set the time for the meeting and she bowed once more before departing. -- “Verus.” She said, as she walked with him, “You owe me money, old friend.” “What would you do with it, buy a dress and some makeup?” He teased. “No. Buy a shuttle pass to get me out of here for a little while.” She replied, annoyed. He looked shocked. “You’re not running…?” She shook her head, quickly. “No no. I just need to be away for a few days.” Her eyes darkened. “I need an alibi and a ride to Dromund Kaas.” His face lit up. “Anyone I know?” “No.” “Can I help?” “No.” “Can I watch?” “NO!” She raised her voice, “This one is different, Vee. The less you know the better.” Verus stopped walking and looked at her a long time. Her red-haloed eyes stared back at his, defiant and unafraid. Finally, he sighed, reached into his robes, and handed her a handful of credit chips. “Your cut.” He said, and walked away. Zafira slipped outside and made for the tombs. Her knives were sharp, concealed, and deadly. Her senses were sharper. She would meditate in the empty tomb, and wait for her Master to arrive. She affected an air of excited anticipation on her emotions, which was not difficult at all. She’d been waiting for this for many years. She knelt on the dusty floor to meditate, in the place where she had knelt for years. Her place, one last time. She breathed, relishing the anticipation. Lit by only a single glow stick, the room was deathly quiet and still. Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Her heart beat fast as she fell into herself, unlocking and releasing her hatred for the man who would be her Master. She replayed her years in the camps at Dromund Kaas in her mind. She relived the shame, humiliation and betrayal. Through passion, I gain strength. The screams of every one of her victims echoed in her mind, stirring her emotions to greater intensity. The feeling of the Force within her deepened and grew. Through strength, I gain power. Her memory floated between the body of Shonna on the ground, her own neck free of the shock collar, and standing before the Academy as a hopeful at last. She felt the triumph, and it felt good. Through power I gain victory. She felt Lord Kirak coming near. He was no longer able to hide himself from her. Her power had eclipsed his at last, and she was ready to take her rightful place. Despite the rigid roles the Academy had forced her into; she realized that she had been Kirak’s apprentice all along. He’d found her one step from death, killed her, saved her, and re-made her into his own monster. He had shaped and forged her power and used her to advance himself. Deep in meditation, she sensed the malice in his mind as he approached. He was coming to kill her. She had been his tool. He was here to dispose of the slave who was no longer useful to him before she became a threat. She had one chance to end her slavery for good, and this was it. If she hesitated, she would die. She rose from her meditation, ready to meet him. Through victory, my chains are broken. “Ah,” He said, quietly, “There you are, my little Sith.” He placed his glow rod in a bracket on a pillar and looked at her. “Are you ready?” She said nothing, but bowed once in respect. As she rose, she raised her hands and unleashed fifteen years of suppressed fear, hatred, and anger at the man who had enslaved her and taken her, body and soul. Purple arcs of distilled power ripped from her hands as the body of Lord Kirak shuddered and twitched, helpless and unable to defend himself. The well of dark Force power inside her core seemed endless as she poured every scream, every tear, and every childhood fear into his body. She sustained the lightning with her rage, and it went on for what seemed like hours to her senses. Her eyes flared purple, and wisps of dark Force floated around her like mist. The fury of her attack picked his body up from the ground and held it aloft, tumbling in the air until she realized that he was dead, and been so for some time. She cut off her attack, her source of hatred extinguished. “Yes, Master. I am ready.” The Force shall free me. She walked to his body and took his unused saber from his belt, stepped over him and sealed the door to the tomb one last time. Knowing that her killing rage had alerted every Master Sith on this side of the planet, she raced down the dark tunnels until she was out of the area. She walked calmly to the shuttle pad and was just in time to catch the next flight to the Imperial Station. By the time anyone found the body – if they found it at all – she would be long gone.
Interlude: Nar Shaddaa The stench hit Zafira in the face as soon as she stepped out of the airlock. The smell of fuel from countless ships, decay, rot, smoke from burning refuse and the heavy perfume of corruption filled her senses. She curled her lips back in a smile. Nar Shaddaa was a good place to be. She'd been too long away, and it was time she closed her fist around the throats of the enemies of the Empire, to remind them of their place. She pulled her hood over her face and strode out onto the concourse, watching the crowd. A shabby-looking human skulked away nervously at her passing. An expressionless cyborg pressed his finger to his cheek at her approach and then subtly passed a hand signal, indicating he was one of her own. He fell in behind her as she walked and soon they were joined by a second member of the reclusive team who were her eyes and ears on Nar Shaddaa. Silent and watchful, they scanned every dark corner and relayed vast amounts of information between themselves and their linked brethren at her safe house. The trio vanished deep within the heart of the under city where there were no shining neon lights or honest citizens. Once they were alone, she spoke. "Veil." "Yes, my Lord?" They spoke in unison. "I seek the identity of the Exchange boss of Nar Shaddaa. The Empire requests the removal of obstacles on this planet," She said. The two beings fell silent, and Zafira imagined the buzz of a billion bits of data flying across the city. Veil One spoke, "That information is currently unknown." "Exchange associate, the Quarren, Haquis, has an office at this location in the Duros sector." Veil Two spoke in an eerie monotone. Zafira’s datapad beeped with the coordinates. She checked the route, and when they reached a central area they took a public speeder to a point near the location. The two cyborgs shadowed her like bodyguards, which looked good while traveling, but she knew they'd be almost useless in a fight. She needed their expertise with data -- she would handle the rest. As they approached on foot, she quietly gave orders to the two. The place would be heavily guarded; there would be many dead when she walked away, but she needed this Haquis alive at least for a little while. They moved closer to the coordinates. She felt the prickling of the Force around her, the dark pressure that began at the core of her being and crept like fire along her limbs. Her perception of time began to shift, slipping into the Force stream of consciousness that ran just an eyeblink faster than time. She flared her nostrils, her senses keen at the scent of fear and the promise of bloodshed to come. She called the Force to her, clouding the minds of beings around her so she seemed no more than a shadow passing along the walls of the choked city streets. In her eyes, the two guards at the door stood out like red flares in the dark. She slipped up to one, unseen, and breathed a word of madness into his mind. He stared at the ground, dumbfounded – tormented by horrors in his own mind. Her saber glared red in the gloom, and the second guard fell with a strangled cry before he ever had a chance to draw his blaster. She slit the throat of the dazed guard and her heart sang to see his blood seep from the wound at his neck. She motioned for the Veil to drag the bodies out of sight, and slipped inside the door. Once inside, Zafira made no pretense of stealth. The thugs inside died quick and honest deaths. A few had a chance to pull their weapons before they fell under her whirling saber. She laughed as they died, twitching and jerking as she drained the life from them, their screams feeding her power, the power filling her with ecstasy. Tendrils of visible dark corruption flirted around her body like wings. As she advanced, the two cyborgs trailed her, their boots leaving bloody tracks in her wake. The door to Haquis' office was sealed shut -- the coward thought a plasteel door could stop her. Her heightened awareness alerted her to three beings inside, one heavily armed. The lock melted to slag under her blade, and she kicked it open with a howl of anger. The humidity of the room hit her at the same time as a barrage of blaster bolts. Her saber blurred before her. Her body, hands and blade knew where every bolt would strike, and sent each of them back towards the three beings in front of her. One of the shooters fell, dead at his own mistake. She sent a long arc of lightning towards the Quarren, and he fell to the floor, stunned. The other being - a human, by the look of it - tried to keep shooting at her. She closed the distance, driven by incredible speed, and slashed his hamstrings. He slammed to the floor, screaming. "Veil!" She pointed at the two survivors. "Drug them both. Keep them alive. I want to have a word with both of them. Bring a speeder here, and load them up. Get every bit of data you can find from this place." The two nodded in unison, removed biochem injectors from their coats, and silenced the two beings on the floor. -- In her safe house, Zafira peeled off her bloodstained clothing and flung it at her droid. She barked orders to have it cleaned and cared for, and walked nude to the computer console, unconcerned about modesty. She peered over Veil Three's shoulder at the screen, watching him zip through the stolen data from the Exchange's safe house. "Do you have a name yet, Veil?" "No name, but a title, my Lord." He replied, his soft voice devoid of emotion. "They refer to their superior as 'Compeer,' though that title implies an equal, rather than a Master." Zafira nodded. "I will get a name." She turned away from the cyborg and walked across the room, picked up a vibroblade and two injectors from the table beside it, and opened a small door. Inside, the room was tiled in clean, seamless white ceramic with a large drain in the center. Four sturdy metal poles crossed the ceiling, and the human and Quarren dangled bound by their hands from two of them, their clothing gone, unconscious from the drugs given them, their feet swinging six inches above the floor. She injected the human first. His eyes flew open and he screamed as the pain hit, and kept howling until he had no voice. She looked him in the eye, her eyes glowing red. "Yes, that's right. You're alive." She brandished the injector. "This will keep you going, but doesn't do anything for the pain. Tell me what I want to know and the pain will go away." The human whimpered, tried to force words to come, but failed. "Who commands the Exchange on Nar Shaddaa?" She asked. "Who does your boss answer to?" She shocked him with a bolt of electricity. The human's eyes clouded, and he mumbled, "Compeer." "I see. I hope you change your mind about telling me." She took the vibroblade in her hand and slid it along his belly, slicing skin but not muscle. Blood flowed from the wound and she smeared her fingers with it, marking her bare chest with red streaks. The human found his voice again. He screamed hoarsely. "Give me a name, and it all stops, human." She let him twist, screaming, as she walked over and injected the Quarren, bringing him back to consciousness and turning him so he could watch his captain suffer in agony. The being made no sound. His eyes were bright and his facial tentacles twitched. She worked on the human for an hour, but all the man would repeat was, "Compeer." He held a great deal of blood and stinking offal inside of him and when she was finally finished she was streaked with crimson. The clean white walls were slick with darkening stains. She ran her hands down her chest, waist and hips, tracing patterns in the blood on her skin. She was sweating, and hot with passion. She was aroused by his pain, driven by the screaming, and the human male had suffered for a long time at her hand. She reveled in the feel of blood on her skin, the heat, and the sharp anticipation of more to come. She called out for a bucket of water and for Veil Three. She took the bucket and doused the Quarren, a small mercy for the aquatic species. "Haquis. You are an intelligent being. Tell me what I need to know and you won't suffer like the human did." The Quarren spoke, his words strange to her ear. Veil Three translated, "Haquis owns the Corellian and Duros sectors. There is only Compeer above him, but there are very many like Haquis on Nar Shaddaa and other worlds." The being spoke again, and Veil Three translated. "No one knows Compeer. No location, no name, holo is an avatar." Zafira considered his words for a moment and then nodded. "Veil, I need you to remain and translate. Surely Haquis will see reason and will give me the names and locations I need. Also, see to it that I have a hot bath waiting when this is over.” Zafira turned to the Quarren. "So you are one small boss of many." She raised her vibroblade. "Then we will send a message to your comrades. But, you see, I need to know who to send it to, and where. You now owe me many names, places, and you must give me something to write on." The Veil translated her words. The Quarren only twitched and dangled. She was surprised to find the blood of the Quarren to be orange, and pleased to see how much came out of him as she slowly cut the thick hide from his body, inch by inch. He was eloquent in his agony, and she rewarded him by dulling his pain before she made the last cut. She walked from the blood-soaked room, nude and covered with blood, eyes blazing, and seething with dark power. She tossed the intact skin of the Quarren at Twovee, and told him to hang the hide in the middle of the promenade. The names of all the known Nar Shaddaa Exchange bosses were carved on the back of it, and it was signed, “Azra’eil”