Chapter 3

SIX MONTHS LATER...

    Cyhen had decided to meet the rebel Darkmoon in another cantina. She didn't entirely trust Kopek, even after he'd saved her life. He was part of the Imperial Regime that ruled the planet, even if, like most Shistavanens, he wished it wasn't there. There was the added advantage that Kopek was off planet on an errand that he hadn't told her about.

    She was wearing the same cloak that hid her unusual fur colour from the crowd as she walked through the busy streets. It was a hot day without a cloud to mar the blue sky. Cyhen didn't like being too warm but resisted the urge to take off her cloak.

    Imperial presence seemed to be everywhere and on a couple occasions her hand hovered on the butt of her blaster pistol when she passed a group of marching Stormtroopers patrolling the city. Finally, she found the entrance to the cantina in a dark alley that most beings avoided even during daylight. The door had no remarkable features and the only indication that the place was a cantina was the neon sign in the shape of a mynock. Cyhen bared her teeth, remembering the time with Byak when the Starchaser had been infested with the pesky things. She turned the door handle and entered.

    In contrast to the brightness outside, the cantina was dark and oppressive. However, it didn't take long for her eyes to adjust to the darkness inside.

    There was gambling going on inside, illegal gambling which accounted in part for the darkness of the cantina. Now Cyhen understood why it had been so hard to locate. As she came up to the bar, she shrugged off the hand of a drunk that thought he could have a "good" time with her. She bared her teeth at him menacingly and flashing her blaster. He seemed to get the message, even though he jabbered in a language that Cyhen didn't understand and suddenly found his drink more interesting.

    She went through the usual ritual of ordering a Lomin ale and looked around for Darkmoon. She located the male human in a booth next to the Jizz Wailer band whose high pitched music hurt Cyhen's sensitive ears. She wished they had met in the Swooper's Inferno now, no matter how she hated putting up with Extreme Mynock Infestation at least their music hurt her ears less!

    After getting her drink, she cut through the crowd, avoiding drunks and trying not to spill her drink. Finally, she sat down on the bench opposite him and drew back the hood of her cloak. No one seemed to pay them any attention, which Cyhen was grateful for.

    Darkmoon muttered an obscure greeting which Cyhen uttered the appropriate answer to before lapping at her Lomin ale.

    "Sorry I'm late. It took me a while to find this place," Cyhen said.

   "It was necessary; you know how our operations have been botched too often recently. The Empire seems to be coming down more heavy handed than usual on our activities."

    Cyhen nodded. Funny, how it had only just seemed to have occurred after her acquaintance with Kopek. Still, it's probably just co-incidence, she tried to convince herself. Part of her didn't want to believe that Kopek would have anything to do with something like that, but Lakah's warning still echoed in the back of her mind.

    "What exactly does this job entail?" Cyhen asked.

    "It's a shipment. I can't express to you just how important this shipment is to us," he leaned forward. "The success or failure of this shipment could mean the survival or death of our people."

    After a few moments, she said, "What exactly is this shipment you want me to take?"

    "Food, medical supplies, weapons, a couple of other vital things. I can't give you the exact details."

    Cyhen gave him a snarl. "I've stuck my neck out for you people. If there's anything in the shipment that might get me into trouble, I need to know about it."

    "Wha, I've always been straight with you, Golden. There's nothing sensitive in the shipment, however, the pay is double more than it usually is."

    Cyhen's ears pricked up. "Nothing illegal?" she asked with a soft yip. As much as she liked the prospect of more money, she was suspicious about it and wanted to see if she could trip him up.

    "No. Just make sure you aren't followed," he passed her a data disc. "The co-ordinates are on that disc and the landing code, so that you don't get shot down."

    Cyhen secreted the data disc inside her pocket just as a squad of Stormtroopers burst through the door, doing a raid on illegal gambling. Cyhen grabbed an handful of Darkmoon's shirt and kissed him. The Stormtroopers, though probably disgusted at the sight of a human and a Shistavanen pashing, ignored them completely as they rounded up the illegal gamblers. Once they had gone, Cyhen released him and Darkmoon sat back breathlessly. Cyhen flattened her ears back in apology.

    "I'm sorry. Couldn't think of any other way to distract them."

    "That's okay. My people will bring the cargo round this afternoon."

    "I'll see you then."

***

    Cyhen's ship, the Starchaser, was reminiscent of the old Naboo starships common in the last days of the Old Republic. Elegant in design, it was just as deadly as it was beautiful. Unlike Naboo starships, however, it was metallic blue in colour instead of chrome. She had to wonder how Byak had gotten hold of the ship in the first place as she ascended the boarding ramp.

    She made her way to the cockpit and draped her cloak over the empty co-pilot's seat. It was early evening by the time the rebels had finished loading the Starchaser. The sensitive stuff, the weapons, were placed in a scan proof compartment in the body of the ship just as a precaution. She used that when she occasionally smuggled ryll and glitterstem for the Hutts, an activity that she avoided unless she was very short of money and there were no rebel jobs.

    She waved at the Mon Calamari technician who had been in charge of the loading crew. He indicated that they were finished and that she could go on her way.

    She ran down the pre-flight check before lifting up into the atmosphere. She always loved the sight of the capital and its surrounding countryside from above. The contrast of the mountains with their forests, the city and beyond that rolling down to the sea were the great grasslands teeming with herds of a hundred different species of grass eating ungulates and their predators.

    The sun was sinking lower in the sky, turning the sea to a bright orange-red colour. It always felt like home and even the Empire could not take that away.

    Cyhen left the surface of the planet behind and after she left the atmosphere, the ship's comlink buzzed. Looking out the main viewport, she saw the ominous triangular shape of the Imperial Star Destroyer, Dauntless.

    "Prepare to be boarded for cargo inspection. Failure to comply will result in your destruction," came the arrogant sounding voice of an Imperial deck officer.

    Cyhen swore under her breath as she resigned herself for inspection. The Starchaser was caught in a tractor beam and brought into the belly of the much larger Star Destroyer.

***

    "As I have already told you, lieutenant -" Cyhen deliberately misread the Imperial's rank insignia. "- you will find no illegal substances on board my ship."

    "That's Commander. I'll be the judge of that."

    Cyhen scowled at him. "I have quotas to fill. I can't hang around here while you look over every bolt and circuit connection on my ship!"

    "We have to stick to Imperial procedures," Commander Navunax looked at her condescendingly. "Don't give me an excuse to lock you in the brig for resistance to inspection."

    As if you need an excuse to arrest me, Cyhen thought to herself as she watched him lead the inspection team up the boarding ramp. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the twenty Stormtroopers all pointing blaster rifles at her like she was seriously contemplating ripping them apart with her bare hands. And she would have too, if there weren't a hundred or more so waiting to blast the head off her shoulders if she tried something like that. She had to wait for what seemed like an eternity before the inspection team reappeared.

    "There is nothing amiss this time," Commander Navunax said, seemingly disappointed that he hadn't found anything sinister. "Don't expect to be so lucky next time."

    Cyhen snapped at his face as she walked past him to go up the boarding ramp. He flinched and Cyhen allowed herself a little chuckle. She paused at the top of the ramp and turned around.

    "Thank you, Commander!" she put emphasis on the word Commander and gave him a mock salute before entering her ship.

    Aliens! Oh how he despised aliens, especially cocky female ones like her. The Emperor should just give the order to wipe them all out.

    As the boarding ramp closed behind her, Captain Jed Darkfyre and Commander Mellibai appeared to stand beside Commander Navunax.

    "Did you plant tracers on that ship?"

    "Yes sir. The traces have been planted, as you ordered."

***

    On her way to the cockpit, Cyhen noticed something wasn't quite right. Near the floor in a crack beside the bulkhead just outside the cockpit, she spotted something flashing red. She bent her knees and looked at it closely as her forehead creased in a frown.

    She bared her teeth as she recognised it for what it was. A tracer! She resisted the urge to pull the thing away and rose to her feet. It looked like this trip was going to take  a little longer than she'd anticipated.

***

     Lakah Vete was on her way home from the Mos Eisley Cantina. She was debating with herself whether or not it was time to move on before the Imps tracked her down. Kannec had recovered from his injuries and was on another of his money making schemes. Because of the blow to their funds paying for Kannec's treatment, (rather more expensive than it would have cost a human with the same injuries.), Lakah had taken a few scouting jobs for the Empire. On the last job, however, she'd fought on the side of the Wookiee Colony of Alaris Prime against Imperial slavers, since then she'd been on the run, unable to allow herself to relax for a moment.

    Still, it had been worth being made a fugitive for. The grateful Wookiees had given her six months supply of Thikkian brandy which she still had most of the supply of because of its potency. Just a mug of the stuff sent her to la la land and helped her forget her problems for a short while. However, it had not been drink that Lakah had gone to the cantina for.

    She was trying to make contact with the Rebels, so she could join them. This time she was lucky enough to get contact information for one cell on a planet in the Outer Rim. She felt a little sleepy as she rounded the corner of the alley that led to her home.

    She caught a strange scent on the air, a male Shistavanen, but there was also the tangy odour of metal. Something was not quite right here.

    Her hand drifted to the familiar and reassuring weight at her hip which she drew before entering the apartment. She did a quick sweep of the entire place, expecting at any moment to get jumped by something, but there was nothing or no one there. She was completely alone.

    Lakah laughed at herself for being so paranoid. She left the blaster on her bedside table and went to close her front door. On her way back to the bedroom, she went to the kitchen to fetch a bottle of the Wookiee brew and a tumbler. She undressed and poured herself half a glass of the drink. It helped her to sleep when she felt troubled, as she did now and when Kannec wasn't around. But too much didn't agree with her and irritated her stomach. Sometimes, it even made her throw up.

    She drank the brandy and within a few moments, she was asleep.

***

    Lakah suddenly woke, her mind feeling hazy as she tried to remember where she was. Mos Eisley. She sniffed the air and strained her ears to pick up what had awakened her. The strange whirring of something mechanical reached her ears, as did the scrabbling of claws on stone. Fear gripped her for a moment and she reached for the vibroblade she kept under her pillow. There was only one way out of this place and that was through the door behind which the hunter was.

    She cursed herself for being so stupid. She should have trusted her instincts, even if they had seemed a little paranoid. Now it was too late to do anything but wait and prepare to fight.

    Kopek smashed his way into the room and Lakah hauled the tumbler at him which missed and shattered against the wall. Before she could get to it, Kopek picked up her blaster and she stabbed at him desperately with her vibroblade that clanged uselessly against the metal of his prosthetic arm. His artificial hand clamped about her wrist and he squeezed so she would drop the vibroblade.

    She howled in pain as the delicate bones in her wrist shattered under the pressure. He placed the barrel of the blaster against her head and pressed his face close to hers. Saliva dripped from his teeth as he spoke. "One more attempt at resistance and you will be dead!" he snarled.

    Lakah snarled back, but the seriousness in his eye and the position of his ears told her that he would carry out the threat if she didn't comply. She considered smashing the bottle of brandy over his head to knock him out, but he would be dead before she completed the action.

    She lowered her ears in submission. "Good," Kopek said.

***

    Nidet made her way down the clean corridors of the Imperial Star Destroyer, Dauntless. She was heading for the detention block that was holding her childhood friend, Lakah Vete. She had not seen Lakah in years. The last time she had seen Lakah had just been after Lakah had helped some Rebels escape imprisonment. They'd had a heated argument over the incident. At the time, Nidet had been a strong supporter of the Imperial Occupation but after seeing atrocity after atrocity inflicted on her people, she had begun to change her mind.

    Nidet was a little nervous about seeing her. What if Lakah rejected her? Nidet still counted her among her friends, even though they were seemingly on different sides. But to Lakah, Nidet was an enemy, as much a part of Palpatine's evil oppression as the Emperor was himself.

    The detention block officers eyed her suspiciously as she entered the detention block command centre. "I have clearance to be here, from Governor Riyadah himself," Nidet showed them the clearance document and the commanding officer snatched it from her hands and took a long time pouring over it, checking for any slight inconsistency in the document that would allow him to deny her access.

    "This all checks out," he said and gestured to one of his underlings. "Accompany the good Archetype to  cell IX59."

    The underling saluted, "Right away, Sir."

    Even though the officer seemed to be showing her the respect she deserved, part of her couldn't help but think he would much rather blast her head off than speak civilly to her. Nidet didn't mind, she felt exactly the same way about him.

    The guard led her down to the end of the cell block before stopping at the last door and stood at attention. Nidet drew back the viewing panel and peered inside. The sight that met her shocked her. Lakah was unable to open her left eye as the skin around it was puffed up and caked in blood. There was mattered blood around her mouth and when she bared her teeth to snarl at her, Nidet saw that she had lost several teeth and that was where the blood was coming from around her mouth.

    Lakah was dressed in a prison uniform, a brown one piece flight suit type garment and was clutching her untreated shattered wrist. It had blood stains where wounds on her body had bled. Nidet ordered the guard to open the door and Nidet stepped inside the featureless cell.

    Lakah greeted her friend with a low, pain filled growl.

    "Surely they haven't started interrogating you already?"

    "This was not inflicted by your Imperial Masters, but by the one who captured me. Thought he'd have some fun," Lakah replied. "Come to gloat, have you?"

    "No - I," Nidet searched for the right words to say. "Whatever disagreement we had in the past, I still remain your friend, Lakah."

    "Save the lies for someone who would believe you!"

    "I want to help you, Lakah."

    "I want nothing from you. Not your pity, not your help, not your friendship!"

    In spite of her pain, Lakah suddenly leapt up from her sleeping bench and launched herself at Nidet, digging her sharp claws into her face and raking her good hand down her face. She pushed Nidet to the floor and tore at her with her sharp teeth. The guard stunned Lakah with his blaster and she slumped unconscious. Nidet rolled her former friend's body off her and got to her feet, dark red blood staining her Archetype's uniform.

***

    Nidet washed off the blood from the scratches to her face and the savage bite to her shoulder. She stared for a moment at the pool of diluted blood and wondered, just for a moment, just how things had gotten this bad between her and Lakah. She winced at the pain in her shoulder as she patted the wound with a sponge but it was nothing compared to the pain caused by the rejection from her childhood friend.

    The wound and scratches would heal but the emotional scar was permanent and would remain with her always. She sighed but she wouldn't allow herself to waste energy on hate. Hate only made things worse. She sniffed, taking one last look at herself in the holographic mirror before putting on a robe and heading out of the refresher to get a glass of her favourite wine, a beverage only found in the Uvena System. She thought about the many times she and Lakah had gotten drunk together and it made her smile, if only for a moment. She lifted the glass to her lips to lap it with her tongue.

    As she entered the lounge, the door buzzed and she set down the glass on the coffee table before answering it. Rivik was at the door when she opened it and she felt a mixture of happiness and self-consciousness when she realised that she wore nothing underneath her robe, which she'd forgotten to tie closed with her belt, but it wasn't her body that caught Rivik's attention.

    "What happened?" he asked, bringing up his hand to touch the four deep parallel scratches.

    "I went to see Lakah. She became angry and attacked me."

    He rested his paw heavily on her shoulder. "I knew you'd be upset, so I came as soon as I'd heard of her capture." He looked past her and spotted the glass of wine. "Mind if I come in?"

    "No, come in," Nidet moved aside and he walked past her to sit on the couch. Nidet closed the door and sat opposite him. Rivik switched off his comlink so that Laej wouldn't be able to bother him. He decided to be honest with her.

    "Once they've gotten all the information they can out of her, she'll be killed."

    Nidet snuffled loudly and tried to keep the tears from forming at the corners of her eyes. She knew since the last meeting that would be the result, but she couldn't bring herself to believe that her friend would die. "There has to be a way to save her -"

    She rose from her seat and looked away so that he wouldn't see the tears that began to roll down her muzzle. She felt Rivik's arms encircle her as he crushed her to him.

    "There is nothing either of us can do without revealing ourselves and being put to death with her. We must live, to carry on her fight," he said, his voice getting quieter until it was nothing more than a whisper in her ear. "But you won't go through this alone. I'm here, if you need me."

    "I need you, Rivik," she turned in his arms and kissed him. Rivik responded just as strongly and Nidet forgot all about the glass of wine.

***

    The Starchaser came out of hyperspace in the Alderaan system. The blue and green planet looked peaceful as it hung in the blackness of space. She opened a channel to request permission to land her ship. She gained it and brought her ship down to land in the spaceport of Aldra City, the capital city that rose up on an artificial platform within a shallow sea. Alderaan was not her true destination. She had landed there so she could remove the tracers from her ship.

    She hoped that the spaceport authorities wouldn't do a through check on her cargo as she was carrying weapons and any type of weapon was illegal on Alderaan, even if she was supplying the Rebellion that the planet supported! While she had been in hyperspace, she had hidden her blaster and other weapons she carried in a scan proof locker that gave out false readings when scanned.

    The planet was one of the most beautiful places she had ever been, untouched almost, by artificial construction. She wondered, however, if the planet had been home to any species other than human if the planet would have retained much of its natural beauty. The Empire was notorious for exploiting and polluting worlds that belonged to non-human species.

    She lowered the ramp as the search team approached the ship and she met them in the cargo hold.

    "Are you the captain of this vessel?"

    "Captain, owner and pilot," Cyhen replied. Even though his demeanour was totally different to that of the commander on the Dauntless, she wanted to deal with them quickly as she was getting fed up of inspection teams.

    "What is your business here?"

    "I'm just stopping to refuel. Will this take long? I have perishable food items in those creates. If I don't get them to their destination on time, my client will lose money and I won't get paid."

    "We're just doing our jobs, Captain. We'll try to inconvenience you as little as possible."

    "Be sure that you do," Cyhen flashed him an intimidating smile.

    "What is in the creates?"

    "Food items, medical supplies. I have the inventory here," she passed him a data pad with the inventory displaying the food and medical items. "You will see that everything checks out."

    Cyhen decided that she had enough of spaceport officials and left while they did their jobs to take a walk around the city close to the spaceport.

***

    Azet stared unseeing at the scarlet blade activated in front of her. Her mind was else where, on a battlefield from another time, another place and what seemed like a life time ago. She was eleven years old at the time.

    Geonosis, the Arena. She'd not taken any part in the fighting but her Master had been called there urgently to help in the rescue of Obi - Wan Kenobi and to destroy the army of the Confederacy, not realising at that very moment they were turning the course of history forever, fighting for the man that was secretly betraying them, but for Azet that wasn't the most significant thing that occurred that day.

    She'd witnessed the death of a friend, the young Bothan male Kish, Padawan to the Shistavanen Jedi Master, Raqak. Raqak's son, Shirak, had tried desperately to save the young Bothan, but he was dead before Shirak could do anything. Azet witnessed Shirak's pain and she felt it herself.

    In the long moment that followed, Shirak was almost cut down himself, saved successfully by his Master, Naja. Naja paused to reprimand his student for lowering his guard for a brief moment, before turning back into the fight.

    Raqak, a wall of fur and barely contained fury, didn't allow the death of his Padawan to distract him for a moment. Mourning would come later.

    Safae Boda, Azet's Master, fought like the nexu.

    But the small Jedi army were soon out numbered and began to fall back towards the centre of the arena. Azet moved with them, so she wouldn't get cut off from her Master and the other Jedi. Just when they thought everything was lost, Yoda and the fleet of Republican Gunships descended to rescue them.

    Azet was in danger of being left behind. Shirak spotted her and ran towards her so she wouldn't get left behind. He grabbed hold of her arm. Laser blasts from Droidekas chased them all the way to the Gunship, Shirak blocking the blasts effortlessly with his green bladed Lightsabre.

    Raqak and Naja helped the two Padawans aboard, while Safae Boda issued orders to the Clone Troopers.

    The three male Jedi slumped to the deck of the ship from emotional exhaustion. Shirak passed Kish's Lightsabre to his father that he had somehow retrieved during the battle. Little did Azet know that the loss of Kish was only the first of devastaing losses brought on by the onset of the Clone Wars...

    Azet's meditation was interrupted by the buzz of her comlink. She deactivated her crimson bladed Lightsabre and rose gracefully to her feet.

***

    When Lakah came to, she found herself strapped upright by her wrists in an interrogation room. The straps binding her wrists were so tight that she couldn't feel her hands, though the pain of her shattered wrist almost made up for that. Her stomach felt like a herd of wild banthas were throwing a party in it. Ignoring the pain in her head, she looked up at the reinforced transparisteel glass above her which she guessed was a viewport but she couldn't see inside. There was a door at the top of a metal stairway that led into what could be best described as an observation lounge.

    Lakah gasped in fear when Za and Kopek entered, carrying various instruments of torture designed to intimidate her. Za leaned forward and pressed his face close to hers before grinning at her wickedly. "You will tell us the location of the Rebel base we know that you are hiding from us," Za said.

    Lakah grinned back at him in defiance despite her pain. " I know of no Rebel base - "

    Za moved back and circled her as Kopek punched her until her nose bled.

    "Don't lie to us, little Lupa. Kopek saw you talking with that Rebel contact, whom he has already dispatched, by the way, in that den of villains, Mos Eisley. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way, but don't think that we are afraid to use force to get information out of you - " Za paused for a moment, considering his words as he scratched at his chin with his sharp claws. "No," he yipped. "Resist little Lupa. Make this more fun for us - "

    As he spoke, Kopek flicked an energy lash at her that caught her across the torso. Lakah gritted her teeth against the pain and refused to cry out. Instead, she only snapped viciously at Kopek, who only struck out at her again for her trouble.

***

    In the observation lounge, Azet licked her lips as Za back handed Lakah across the muzzle. Azet watched the defiant female in fascination and reached out to sense her with the Force. There was a lot of anger in her, mostly directed at the Archetype Nidet, who had not even shown up to witness the interrogation of her former friend. Rivik had been uncontactable as well. None of this was in fact necessary as Azet could just rip the information from her mind anytime she wanted, but Kopek and Za had to have their fun, didn't they?

    "Surely an Interrogation Droid would be more efficient than this display of savagery!" the over weight Laej commented.

    Azet glared at him like she was going to rip his head off and eat it. "Trust me, Za knows what he's doing."

    Only too well, Azet added to herself. She remembered experiencing his brutality herself, that was until she learnt to fight back and he learnt not to mess with someone who was more powerful than he was in ways that he could never match physically.

    She hated them, playing with the defenceless prisoner like a cat torturing its cornered prey before going in for the kill, accept that they wouldn't kill her, not until they got tired of her being their defenceless plaything and Azet went in to rip the information from her mind.

    To Lakah's credit, she just faced up to the torture, refusing to let the pain show, refusing to let them know how much they were hurting her, even though in her mind she screamed and Azet was the only one who knew it. Part of her wanted it to stop it, but she loved it too.

    It was a shame that she wasn't Force sensitive. She would have made a good Sith Apprentice.

    Finally, the pain and blood loss were too much for Lakah and she passed out. Za and Kopek ascended the stairs and entered the observation room.

    "Did you learn anything?" the Governor asked.

    "Not yet, my lord. She is very stubborn but we must wait until she regains consciousness," Za replied.

***

    In the end, Cyhen found three tracers in all and planted one on the hull of a commercial liner bound for Coruscant. Placing the tracer had been difficult as she'd had to dodge spaceport security and avoid the security guards of the liner. The rest she had destroyed. She just hoped that the people on the liner wouldn't get killed by some over zealous Imperial commander being trigger happy.

    After she had watched the liner blast off into orbit, she returned to her ship and got clearance from space control to leave. A few minutes later she was heading up into orbit. Part of her was sad at having to leave the world behind. She had never felt more comfortable going through the streets of Aldra that circled the spaceport. She had not felt like that way in a long time, not since her childhood. Thinking about that time brought a twinge of emotional pain in her heart. She missed her uncle and had no memory of her real parents.

    Cyhen forced herself to concentrate on the moment and punched the co-ordinates for Yavin and waited while the navi computer did the calculations for the jump into hyperspace, the verdant world of Alderaan  hanging in space below her.

    She eased the ship into position for the jump to lightspeed and checked the time left for the jump. Thirty seconds.

    Just as she was about to pull the lever back to enter hyperspace, the Starchaser detected the strangest craft she had ever seen. It was spherical in shape and was the size of a small moon. She checked the readout again just to make sure that she wasn't seeing things, before looking out the viewport.

    As she stared in fascination, trying to work out what it was, her expression changed from one of curiosity to pure terror as a powerful laser beam was emitted from the northern hemisphere of the craft and obliterated the defenceless planet she had just vacated. She glanced at her holocam and sensor board, making sure she was getting enough information as possible. She stared at the asteroid belt that had once been Alderaan in shock.

    Only the warning klaxon that sounded as her ship was being fired upon by TIE Fighters brought her out of her trance and she flipped the lever back.

    After the stars elongated and formed the haze of hyperspace, Cyhen played back the recording on her monitor. She had encountered destruction before but never on such a large scale and never with such callous regard for life. It was such a display of destructive power that it would be something that she would carry with her for the rest of her life, no matter how much she wished she could forget it.
    
***

    "Hold her, Za," Azet instructed. Za used his body strength to hold the beaten Lakah on her feet. She was unable to do so on her own power and she felt limp and weak in his arms. She was conscious enough to comprehend that something was going on, but she was unable to struggle or work out just quite what it was.

    Kopek looked on in the background, starting to feel a little guilty about what was happening to Cyhen's friend. He had been secretly looking into Cyhen's contacts with the Rebels so that he could track them down and remove the threat at least from Mizet's former supporters from regaining power once the Imperial Occupation began to crumble. Still, he had never realised that it would get so...personal. What would happen if Za ever wanted him to eliminate Cyhen herself? Could he do it? Kopek just hoped that situation would never arise so he could find out.

    After the last interrogation, Lakah had been taken to one of the underground dungeons below the palace. They were damp and cold, water droplets dripped from the ceiling and formed puddles on the floor. The only light was cast by fire torch light which had been unchanged for thousands of years. The cell doors were made of huge iron bars about as thick as Azet's wrists.

    Lakah recovered enough of her senses to snarl at Azet. In retaliation, Azet sent a controlled burst of Force lightening through her as a warning which glowed whitish blue in the darkness. Azet's sun yellow eyes burned into Lakah's mind and she gave up all resistance.

    Azet placed her hands on either side of Lakah's head, digging her sharp claws in deep enough to draw blood that formed little rivers that dripped to the floor at her feet. Lakah felt like her skull was being crushed like an egg but that pain was nothing compared to what was to come.

    Azet probed Lakah's mind with the Force, forcing her way inside and tearing and ripping it apart as she searched for the information she wanted. She skimmed through the memories Lakah had of her friend Nidet and her ill feelings towards her childhood friend began to evaporate, dissolve. Azet probed deeper, harder, tearing into Lakah's mind with the ease of a pack of battle dogs tearing apart their prey. This time the pain was just too intense as Lakah screamed in pain as her mind was torn to shreds.

    Za looked at Azet, whose eyes were closed in concentration but the sickening smile on the Dark Jedi's face sent a shiver down his spine. He had never seen her like this before, taking such perverse joy in causing pain to another, but then he shouldn't be surprised, really. She was his mate.

    Azet fed on Lakah's pain, anger and fear. It made her strong and powerful. It made Azet feel good that for once someone else was feeling pain instead of her. It didn't even matter that they shared the same enemy in Palpatine and the Empire. All that mattered was that someone else was hurting more than she did.

    For Azet, it was not long enough. For Lakah, it took what seemed like an eternity. Azet's eyes flicked open and she took her hands away from Lakah's skull.

    "Did you learn anything?" Za asked.

    "Yes. The Rebels are on the planet Rogja."

    Za let go of Lakah, who slumped to the floor, seemingly unable to stand upright, clutching her head in pain and confusion. They left the Rebel there, destroyed more thoroughly than any Imperial interrogation could achieve, but alive in a nightmare that was worse than death.

***

    Cyhen Hes breathed a sigh as the Starchaser re-emerged from hyperspace in the Yavin System. She glanced at the navigation screen to see where the moon Yavin 4 was located. Yavin hung in the blackness of space like a second sun.

    She was glad that she would be soon dropping off the cargo for the Rebels, but the scene of Alderaan being obliterated forever played over and over again in her mind. It was the most terrible thing she had ever witnessed, all that loss of life and to think that if she had delayed leaving the planet a moment longer that she herself would have been one of the victims. It was unthinkable.

    She got the ID code ready for transmission the Rebel Base below. The comlink buzzed and a voice came over the com.

    "This is flight officer, Wedge Antilles to unidentified starship, please respond - "

    "I'm bringing you your X-Wing parts, flight officer Antilles," Cyhen said, transmitting the code. "Could you put me through to the Commander of the base? I have urgent news."

    A few moments later, another voice came over the com. "I am General Jan Dodonna. What's your urgent news?"

    "General, on my way here, I stopped off at the planet Alderaan. As I was leaving, - well, let's just say that Alderaan no longer exists."

    "By the Force, Bail Organa, Princess Leia - "

    "I'm sorry, General. The battle station just came out of no where. The only thing that's left of Alderaan is an asteroid belt."

***

     Azet spent the rest of the night in meditation, recalling the time she had set foot on the planet Rogja. After a year of travelling the spaceways, losing herself in the various spaceports of a hundred different worlds, she had finally ended up on the backwater world of Rogja, a planet not far from the Uvena System. As a result, it had been one of the first worlds outside the Uvena System to be colonised by Shistavanen explorers.

    Many of the denizens of the spaceport her transport ship had landed in were Shistavanens. Perhaps she could hide among them from Palpatine's Jedi Hunters. Every planet she had been to they had been there, pursuing her. Clones of her old comrades. She no longer carried a Lightsabre, deeming it to be too dangerous to do so. They were too easily recognised even by the most stupid of thugs and all would try something, just to get money or brag in the cantinas that they had taken out a Jedi! Discarding her Lightsabre made her vulnerable to attack and she could never use the Force openly as that would reveal her to be a Jedi and then the relentless pursuit of Bounty Hunters and Jedi Hunters would start all over again. Hopefully, this time if she didn't reveal her powers and blended in with the general population. Then she could perhaps live a normal life.

    No one trusted the Jedi anymore, not even the people they were supposed to protect. There might be one or two still sympathetic to the Jedi, who still remembered them as guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, but most were only too happy to betray them, sometimes out of hate or greed, but the one that hurt most was fear. Almost everyone seemed to fear them and not only those who had a reason to fear them, but ordinary people.

    Sometimes it was through ignorance about what abilities a Jedi had, such as reading their private thoughts instead of sensing the person's feelings, not their thoughts. Even when a Jedi communicated to another Jedi through the Force, it wasn't telepathy, it was just feelings that were more controlled.

    What compounded the fear people felt towards the Jedi was through Palpatine's propaganda and this seemed to be everywhere. Palpatine took people's real concerns about the Jedi and blew them all out of proportion so that it would turn to hatred, so that people would only be too happy to eliminate his main opposition to power.

    Whatever the reason, Azet needed to defend herself from attack and this sometimes meant she had to give into the very anger that her dead Jedi Master had warned her against.

    She was fearful of rejection, of getting close to people incase they found out about her powers. So she pushed them away, living a lonely existence. What was hardest was that since her Master's death at the hands of Darth Vader, she had no one who understood her powers.

    She didn't even realise that she was falling deeper and deeper into the darkside of the Force as time went on. Vindictiveness, lust for power, lashing out in anger are the obvious paths to the darkside, but loneliness, fear, pushing people away, self loathing and self doubt are all harder to recognise and are probably more damaging because you don't even realise it's there until its too late.

    Azet was on the planet for about a month before more of Palpatine's Jedi Hunters caught up with her. She was in a bar, drinking away her troubles when a squad of six showed up. That was how she had met Za and Kopek. The two Archetypes were pursuing a criminal and decided to give her an helping hand. The fight was brief and bloody and ended in the death of all the Hunters and the wounding of Za. Azet, grateful for his help, used the Force to heal him until he could get proper medical treatment and everything else was history.

***

    "How's your shoulder?" Rivik whispered in Nidet's ear. He stroked her good arm, passing his hand down it until he came to her hand, which he gripped in his own. After making love, they had fallen asleep and it was now early morning.

    "Still hurts, but it will heal," Nidet replied as he kissed the finger tips of her hand. He had made her forget about Lakah for a while but it all came rushing back to her now. There had to be a way of helping her. Rivik leaned forward over her protectively and licked the dried blood off her face from the scratches. The minor wounds were still sore, but she still enjoyed the sensation.

    Nidet reluctantly swung her legs around and sat on the edge of her bed. However much she wanted to spend the day in bed with him, she knew that couldn't be. She had work to do and she needed to see Lakah again. She felt a little nip on the back of her neck that sent a shiver of excitement down her spine.

    "Do you want me to accompany you this time?" Rivik guessed what was on her mind.

    "Yes, I don't want to see her alone."

    Rivik checked the dressing on her shoulder and applied a new bacta treatment. It was healing quite well but the emotional wound was still open and there was nothing he could do about that.

    As her shoulder was still sore and tender, Nidet chose to wear a tight sleeveless nerf hide body suit that wouldn't interfere with the dressing or make it worse by rubbing against it. Rivik had to make do with what he had worn the night before.

    Nidet made an enquiry about Lakah and found she had been taken to the cells beneath the palace.

    For the most part, the palace was deserted accept for Imperial guards and the odd Archetype apprentice carrying out guard duty. Lakah was now being held in the catacombs underneath the ancient palace, inside one of the dark, damp cells. No one questioned them as they were a familiar sight about the palace.

   The guard who over saw the prisoners accompanied them to Lakah's cell.

    The closer they came to the cell, the more anxious Nidet became. She was nervous about what Lakah would say to her when they met and she worried about the state they would find her in. If she had gone through interrogation...

    They found the cell and waited for the guard to unlock the heavy steal door.

    "Lakah!" Nidet said when she first saw her. She looked worse than she had previously and when Nidet crossed the cell to kneel down beside her and take her hand in hers, Lakah didn't recognise her. Nidet turned to look up at Rivik. "What have they done to her?"

    Rivik dismissed the guard, who objected until Rivik growled low in his throat and gestured towards his broadsword. The guard scampered away.

    Rivik sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose before setting his face in a hard expression. The air was strong with the smell of blood and death.

    "She's dying, Nidet. There's only one thing we can do," he drew his vibroblade.

    Nidet bared her teeth at him. "You can't. I won't let you!" she snarled at him like a mother willing to die to protect her young. Lakah had been hurt too much already.

    "Nidet, please. The best thing we can do for her is to stop her suffering. Even if we did put her in a bacta tank, it is likely that she would die. If she lived, there's not enough left of your friend to save."

    Lakah didn't even react to the debate over her death. Nidet glanced at Lakah, then at Rivik before settling her gaze finally on the cruel edge of the vibroblade.

    "Besides, it will save her the humiliation of a public execution," Rivik added. He knew all about those. A few years ago, his brother had been falsely accused of being a rebel and the Governor had ordered him killed.

    "Just give me a moment, ok?"

    Rivik nodded and Nidet looked deep into Lakah's eyes.

    "I'm sorry, Lakah. I don't even know if you can understand me. The last time we saw each other, you hurt me in more ways than you can imagine. I don't want my last memory of you to be like that. I will miss you, my friend, my pack-sister!" she kissed Lakah on the forehead and just for a moment, her pain filled eyes cleared and a flicker of recognition lit up her eyes and then it was gone again.

    Nidet rose and left the cell. Behind her, Rivik lifted Lakah to her feet and held her, he didn't hesitate for one moment. To do so would make him lose his nerves. "Forgive me, Nidet," he whispered before plunging the blade into Lakah's heart. Lakah choked for a moment before slumping limp in his arms. Blood trickled out of the wound as he retrieved his blade, forming a pool of blood at his feet.

    He cleaned his blade and left the cell, into the waiting arms of Nidet.