Where once there had been a world teeming with life, now there was just a barren wasteland. But the echo of its people's suffering still carried. A tale of callous, pointless destruction. Shikoba was no stranger to the embrace of death. She had traversed the spirit realm, and now her mind seemed to spend as much time in it as it did in the realm of the living. She saw the spirits of those others had killed coalesce around them. She heard the unjustly murdered cry out for justice. Sometimes she could help them find peace. She had seen Imperials lay an entire town to waste to make a point. But she had never witnessed destruction on such scale.

"They're gone, they're gone. No...death's not the end, it's a door." she muttered as she walked through the corridor. Her mantra felt hollow now. "Gone...just gone." Her eyes were red with tears. She looked aimless and lost. Once again, she was surrounded by metal. Just like on the metal station of the deathbringers. And they call us savages, she thought bitterly.
"Savages, the lot of them," she blurted out.

It could've been her homeworld. It could've been her homeworld. Everything she knew, everything she cared about could be gone in the blink of an eye. Here and there, she perceived spectral apparitions of dead Chiss - men, women and children. Soldiers and crewers in the corridor gave her a wide berth, unnerved by her. All except one. "Shikoba?" Diona's slightly accented Basic rang out.
"'Tis all gone!" the Vashyada raised her voice.
"I know."
"The sky people are barbarians."
"I know."
"Why does your kind do this? Even the Xio wouldn't be this cruel."
Diona placed a hand on the frantic Vashyada's shoulder. "Take a breath. It's done. They're Sith. It's in their nature to be monstrous." Not that my Jedi masters were much better, she thought bitterly. "We can only move forward. You're strong. I know you can do that."

The Vashyada took a slow, calming breath. "I hear them - the spirits. But all this metal...I cannot focus. It's all lifeless."
Something clicked in Diona's head. "Want me to take you to the garden?" By that she meant the hydropnonics. "There's green there. We can meditate."
Shikoba nodded immediately. "Yes, take me there."

At this late hour, the hydroponics garden was deserted, so there was no one to disturb them. Shikoba was silent for a long while when they entered. This garden was still unnatural and did not quite deserve the name in her estimation. Plants did not grow naturally, but in artificial lines by the will of machines. But she could still hear the voice of Mother Earth, though it was muffled by all the machinery and the dark void. For a while she said nothing, running her hands over the plants.

Diona joined her in silent meditation. The Windian Jedi Order had taught her many things and few of them good, but the discipline it had instilled in her was useful in these situations. It had fortified her will when the darkness assaulted them aboard the battlestation. Finally, Shikoba broke the silence. "I thank you. When we first met I wondered whether a clone could have a soul or whether it's just a mutilated thing," she stated bluntly. "I wasn't kind to you. I saw the spirits cling to you and concluded your nature was vile. But you're not evil."
"I wouldn't go that far," Diona muttered, standing up. "We should get back to our quarters."

However, then she felt Shikoba's hand on her shoulder, pulling her back. "You have sinned. The dead of Distoma haunt you, as they should." Diona's jaw tightened. She had never mentioned that name to the elf. The spirits shall judge you when you die. But...there are also those who would intercede on your behalf when your deeds are weighed. The evil you did is not in your nature."

Diona looked uncertain. "I don't want your forgiveness, Ghosttalker. Or anyone's. Nor do I do penance because I want someone speak up for me and say I've bought my way out of Chaos. They're dead. End of the story."
"And they still watch you. No one...no one's ever truly gone. Today, I saw those whose nature is nothing but evil." She got to her feet. "The hour is late, but I would light a candle for those who perished today. Would you join me in holding vigil, Diona of Tephrike?"
After a moment, Diona nodded. "Alright."

The Forge had a small, non-denominated shrine to serve as a place of worship. Diona had avoided it until now. Too many bad memories. The pair lit a candle each. Shikoba knelt and began to chant. "I pray to the spirits, guide us through this pain. Great Owl, I beseech you, guide the dead of Csilla through the void, as you guided me, to the land of peace, where rivers do not turn red. Show them the secret pathways aay from the dark ones.

Mother Sun, who brings life to us all, I ask that you have the sun shine on the unjustly slain and bring new life to them, a life without the pain and sadness of the world; and to their families and my companions, bring our sun for they also need your light. May the songs of the winds and clouds sweep away the pain and sadness from our hearts, as we hear those songs, let us know the spirits that who are with those songs are at peace. Spirits, give me the strength to make this world a better place, when innocents bleed in a world so cruel."

"There is no death, there is the Light," Diona said quietly. Words the Dominion of Light had drilled into her skull. She no longer believed in the Code - too many lies, disappointments and betrayals. But she took comfort in this line all the same. The Vashyada got up from the floor. "Death is not the end; death is a door," she said quietly.


Rhea had heard garbled stories about the death star on Tephrike. That did not, however, prepare her for the devastation this latter-day knockoff had unleashed, even with all the death and destruction she had witnessed on Tephrike. Back home, she had seen the after-effects of the Vaderites using nerve gas to bombard agricultural communes before moving in to steal their produce. Nerve gas was effective, as it killed the 'useless eaters' but did not damage the grain. She had felt sick when she beheld the ghastly rictuses on the faces of the dead.

She had hidden beneath a pile of bodies when the Vaderites and their lackeys gunned down an entire village - her people, on account of them not being 'pure' enough. Her mother had died shielding her, begging her with her dying words to stay quiet and live. She had seen bodies of Padawans the Republican Guard had nailed to trees - and rigged with explosives to kill their comrades when they tried to take them down. And she had seen the Dominion smite disobedient settlements with walls of light and round up so-called 'heretics' to be tortured, broken and remade. She had been there when the Dominion's troops stormed a Vaderite death camp, liberating the few surviving inmates, who had been so emaciated they might as well have been skeletons - only to appropriate it as a torture centre.

Once Rhea had dared to hope that Tephrike was an exception and the greater galaxy was less wretched, but her experiences in the stars had disillusioned her. Evil was a universal condition. She was pulled from her brooding by the sound of footsteps. The Rattataki tensed, fighting against the instinct to reach for her gun. A moment later, the door opened and Celaena stepped in. "Just me," the elf said, eyeing the pistol near Rhea. "No need to shoot me."

"I wasn't..." the Rattaki began, but the Eldorai brushed her words aside.
"It's fine. Got to be prepared. Be faster on the draw next time."
Rhea lay back down in her bed. "It's...been a long day." She noticed that the Eldorai was holding a bottle in her hands.
"That's one way of putting it," Celaena sighed. "Not sure why I'm here. Just heard Csilla's a lifeless husk now and figured I'd do checkup or something."

"I am glad that you came." To Rhea's surprise, she realised she was not just saying it to be polite. "It was horrible. I'd say these Mawists were unlike who I fought before...but the truth is they're not. They're the Vaderites if the Vaderites weren't confined to one planet and didn't need death camps and gas to murder people. They should all burn." There was a fierce light in her yellow eyes.

"So much scum to kill, so little time. I don't know this Csilla. Never been there. When I heard the news, the first thing on my mind was 'at least our people made it out'. Already lost my people because a planet was rated once."
Rhea frowned slightly, fishing in her memories. "You mean on Kai-shy-na," she said, probably mispronouncing the Eldorai homeworld's name.

"Kai-shay-nah, yes," Celaena corrected a bit primly. "Some say it was Ashira's punishment for our sins. You'd think if Mother wanted to punish us, she'd have just dropped the rock on all our nobles instead of letting them get away. I suppose these Chiss and my people have something in common. Crappy rulers, destroyed homeworld, foreign power blocs trying to claim the carcass. The mighty do what the hell they want and the weak..."
"Suffer it," Rhea finished, "unless they get the strength to fight back."
Celaena met her gaze. "Better than dying on your knees."
There was a moment of silence. "What happend on Kaeshana?" Rhea finally asked. She spoke the name slowly, taking her time to get the pronounciation right.

"Big asteroid. The fancy nobles and the 'best and brightest' hitched a ride with Firemane and left the proles to rot. A few years later, they come back and say they're sorry. But who else shows up? Imperialists and their Ren. So we fight alongside the devil we know, they lose and run again. Some of us make it out in time. The rest were oppressed by the Imperialists."
"Damn. They are your Vaderites. They're always there to make life hell for someone. And the powerful are always abandoning their people when it suits them." She frowned slightly.
"Here to us, children of destroyed worlds, survivors of terrible rulers." Celaena cracked the bottle open and took a swig. Then she held it out to Rhea.
The Rattataki took the proferred bottle and drank. She felt a feeling of profound warmth spread through her body. "This is...good."
Celaena smirked slightly. "Got it from my Qadiri cousins. Was saving it for a special occasion. I suppose this counts."

"Thank you," Rhea eyed the bottle again. "May I?"
"Just leave some for me."
That was all the encouragement Rhea needed to bring the bottle to her lips again. She drank slowly, savouring the taste even as it tingled the back of her throat. Suddenly, she giggled. "Force, I'd be flogged for this on Tephrike."
Now it was Celaena's turn to be surprised. "That bad? How do you all cope without liquor? Only thing that makes being under someone's boot bearable."
"Oh, if you're a Jedi Master you can buy it in special shops. The Inquisition will just hold it against you if you fall from grace. For the rest of us there's...happy pills."
"No liquor...but drugs. Your people are crazy."

"Yes, yes, they are." Rhea handed the bottle back to the Eldorai, who did not waste time having another drink. "The Dominion pretends otherwise, but doesn't mind drugs it controls. Keeps everyone blissful and obedient. Do you know who the biggest dealers on Tephrike are? The rebels and a cult of hippie Jedi."
Now it was Celaena's turn to laugh. "Crazy. The whole lot of you."

"What's Kaeshana like now? It is not far from Firemane's lands. Why don't they help?"
"Oh, it's free now. Just...dead." Celaena saw the confused expression on Rhea's face and added, "I don't know the details. But it was dragged through the void...somehow. Illyria's intervention, maybe." She laughed without mirth. "No Imperialists, no Eldorai, just ghosts and monsters."

"I understand, well not quite," Rhea admitted. There were many hellscapes on Tephrike...but a planet being dragged through hell was an entirely different ball game.
Celaena gestured dismissively. "No one really does. Don't overthink it. No one's going back there."
"Firemane abandoned you, why are you with them"

"Credits, protection. My people are poor and fractured and the settlement I belong to is in their sphere. You lot got rescued by them?"
"By accident," Rhea insisted firmly. "They didn't care about us. We happened to be in the same camp as Elpsis. She lit the fuse of the revolt, we helped her, and she wouldn't leave us."
"Goddess, you really do admire her."
"She's earned it. Saved me, never looked down on me."
"Yeah, well, don't get all starry-eyed. Guess it's knap time," Celaena said a bit brusquely, getting to her feet. Rhea passed the bottle back to her. "Thanks for the drink."
"May Ashira light your path."


Every step was marked by pain, as old and new injuries flared up inside her. She carried on regardless. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. As it turned out, the training room was not as unoccupied as Elpsis had anticipated.
Nyssa's organic arm was still in a sling. "Guess we had the same idea," she stated when she saw the redhead enter.

"Just need something to smack. Better than brooding in my room," Elpsis responded, looking around. There were some training dummies and she could probably find some droids to demolish.
"Fun time at the briefing? Iron Post still has a stick up her arse?"
"Not in the mood to talk about it."
"Fine by me. We did our job. Let's fight. Makes it a challenge at least."

Elpsis shook her head. "You're hurt. I won't fight you."
"Not like you're looking any better," the Pureblood pointed out, sounding just a bit vexed. "Honestly, I don't get why everyone's being so mopey. Not like they were on that damn rock. If Firemane or any of the big powers really cared, you'd think they'd have done something earlier."
"Billions of people died, Nyssa," Elpsis said sternly. "Just to make a point. Kinda upsets people. Even if most of them will just post 'thoughts and prayers' on Fwitter and then go back to gossiping about some celebrity's love life."

Nyssa scoffed. "Razing a planet's such a huge waste. Who wants to be overlord of the ashes? Other than a lunatic. But maybe the Chiss will find the strength to toughen up, though they'll probably just bend over to the next foreign ruler, like they always do, while acting all superior."
Elpsis swung a punch at her. "Oh, yeah, how are your 'Purebloods' doing these days? What have they accomplished? Other than being lackeys for this or that dark lord?"
Nyssa took the punch. Pain exploded inside her from the super-heated cybernetic fist. She staggered, dodged the next blow and intercepted the third. "Not true Purebloods. Just weaklings. Human lackeys."

"Like you are? What happened to your 'pure' family? Oh, you killed them." Nyssa launched a thunderous kick towards Elpsis' wounded leg. Exactly where she knew the pyromancer was vulnerable. It knocked her back hard. Then the Pureblood grappled her and flung her through the air. "And if you obsess over every atrocity, you'll be weak, too."
Elpsis was breathing heavily, her face contorted in an expression of anger. "I'll show you weak, Sith." And a fireball rippled from her hand.

There was little discipline or technique to their fight. It would be more accurate to call it a brawl. Both were still impaired by their injuries. They rained down blows and kicks - increasingly wild and furious. Luckily, the training room had been designed to resist fireballs and telekinetic impacts, for there was a lot of both. Nyssa was the stronger and more durable one physically - always had been. She could overpower Elpsis through brute force alone, even when injured, and she was faster. But her foe was a lot stronger in the Force - and very mad. There was little in terms of holding back.

When it was over, they were exhausted and bloody. Nyssa was rolling on the ground to put out the fire after being slammed into a wall, while Elpsis was slumped over the mat, panting. "You feel better now?" Nyssa asked, sweaty, bruised and gasping for breath. Smoke coiled from her robotic arm.
"Yeah." Elpsis breathed in deeply, feeling a sharp pain now that the adrenaline was wearing off. Moreover, a tooth felt like it had come loose. Her body felt like crap and it would give her even more hell in the morning. But she felt better. She wiped some blood from her face. "You did this on purpose."
"It worked, didn't it?"
"It did," Elpsis admitted. "And I'm tired and we've got lots of clean-up tomorrow, so I'm going get cleaned up and go to bed." It had gotten very late.
"Want some company?" Nyssa asked a bit eagerly.
Elpsis frowned. "Not in the mood for sex,"
"I figured. Wasn't offering. We can cuddle and all that."
Elpsis raised an eyebrow at that. "You want to cuddle?" she asked a bit incredulously.
"Do you want it or not?" Nyssa huffed irritably.
"Yeah...I would. It'd would be nice if you could hold me."
A thin smile formed on Nyssa's lips and she took Elpsis' hand.


The team convened in a common room in the early morning hours. Natalie was slouching in a chair, Diona was standing and Shikoba seemed to be meditating. Rhea sat straight. Seeing Nyssa and Elpsis arrive together, Natalie gave them a look. "Hot night?" she quipped.
"Jealous?" Nyssa asked a bit smugly.
"Questioning Elpsis' tastes," the Essionian retorted. "But we're not here for that."
"No, we're not," the redhead in question said firmly. "I, uh, wanted to say a few words before the whole platoon gets together." She cleared her throat.

"We survived. A ton of people didn't. Lotta innocents died. That's not on us; we did our job. That's on the Sith. I'm not gonna make any speeches about 'never again'. I can't do that; you can't; the bigwigs in their palaces can't. What I can promise you is that I'll never back down from a fight. The Sith are my enemy forever - in the stars, on Tephrike," at that she briefly glanced at Diona and Rhea. "And if you stay with me I can promise you I'll never stop until the last of our enemies is dead...or I am. You did well, all of you. I'm proud of you." She took a breath. Her throat was itching.

"I'm in," Rhea was the first to break the silence after her address.
"You have my sword," Diona spoke.
"I have seen the horrors of the star barbarians," Shikoba said. "They are enemies of life. And the spirits charged me with combating them."
"Glad to have you."
"You don't need reassurance from me, do you?" Nyssa asked rhetorically. "The fight's where I live and it's here, so are you. We got to push second and third squad harder."
Elpsis nodded grimly. "Yes. We got to push them all harder. And I'm not so arrogant to admit I can do it all on my own. They look up to you. You're the toughtest, and they know it."
"I still have some friends from the old days," Natalie interjected. "I'll see what they can dig up that'll help us. Maybe get a network together."
"Thanks...I appreciate it, Natalie."
"Yes, well, don't go all mushy on me."

The next group to be addressed was the platoon as a whole. On the way to the training area, Elpsis ran into an old friend. "Platoon's assembled, Lieutenant," Sergeant Lin Brakka, who was, in the tradition of NCOs, quite a bit older than the junior officer reported. "Wish I'd been there with you."
"I know the feeling. Wouldn't have made a difference though, Horns," Elpsis said bluntly.
The Zabrak nodded. "No. Can only make one now."
"What's the mood?" the Lieutenant asked.
True to form, the platoon Sergeant did not mince words. "Mixed bag. Confused, afraid, angry. It's hard on the Tygaran recruits. Think they've only now just grasped how destructive us 'sky people' are. Projecting a lot. I said a couple words to bunch of them. The Eldorai aren't coping that badly. Been there, done that to them. Probably for the best we don't have a Chiss," Lin reported as they entered.

"As you were," Elpsis spoke quickly before someone could yell something an officer being on deck. "We've got a full day of training ahead of us, but there's some things I want to say first. Speeches ain't my thing, so I'll keep this short," Elpsis began. She was not being modest. Flowery oratory was something she neither liked nor excelled at it. "You heard what happened. The galaxy united to stop a threat; it failed. A planet died. That's not our fault, we carried the fight to the heart of the superweapon and got out. The Sith are strong, they care nothing for life. Only by burning the Sith, the Imperialist, the slaver and the criminal can we have peace. But that ain't gonna happen for a while."

Force, her throat hurt. "Probably not in our life time. Some of us will die along the way. Maybe all of us. I guess this is the moment where we shout 'Never Again'. 'Not another world will die.' 'The Light will rise'. It's naive bullchit - all of it. So I won't promise you any of that. I promise you blood and fire. The fire we use to burn all our enemies and the blood we shed - ours and theirs. Each of us must do their part to fight this threat so that our people can be safe. Train hard, fight hard. It won't be long before we're in action again."


Captain Sha Rezz was already in the training room when Elpsis arrived. She sat on the floor cross-legged, and with her eyes closed, seemingly meditating. However, though her focus was intense, Elpsis' arrival did not go unnoticed.
"Are you rested, Lieutenant?" she asked.
"As much as you can be under the circumstances, ma'am," Elpsis responded bluntly, saluting. "I'm ready to get started."
"I always liked that about you, Kerrigan."
Elpsis looked mildly perplexed. "Not sure I follow."
"You see a problem, you set out to fix it, even if it's in yourself. You don't showboat."
Elpsis coughed slightly. "Just trying to do my duty, ma'am."

"Yes...what happens now won't be pleasant, but necessary." Reaching into a bag, the Rodian Captain removed an obviously prepared syringe, inspected it and handed it to Elpsis. "Inject this into your neck."
"What's in it?"
"Hurlothrombic Compound. It triggers anxiety, panic, fear."
Taking the syringe, Elpsis jabbed the needle into her neck. She felt a stinging sensation. The substance was painful as it worked its way into her system. But the physical effect was minor compared to the mental one.
Suddenly, Rezz' voice seemed far and distant. "Welcome to the jungle, Lieutenant." The substance attacked her psyche itself. Suddenly, her body tensed when hallucinations assailed her - a squalid, tiny cell, rats, blood, torture. Back in the camp of horrors. Her heartbeat raced. Sweat dripped down her face.

But as she tried to fight against the substance inside her bloodstream, Razz asaulted her mind. The psychic assault was incisive. Overwhelming sound, sensation. Feeling of rats crawling all over her, gnawing at her flesh. A distraction for the subsequent strike at the linkage between her mind and body. The kind of attack meant to cause a grand mal seizure. Her body jerked, limbs convulsing. She felt like she was being dragged underwater, unable to breathe.